A rustic and comforting winter fish soup made with smoked cod and warmed with whiskey.
If you’re out for lunch, beware the waiter who tells you the day special is “fresh seafood chowder”, especially if it’s a Monday.
Why, you might ask? Well, restaurants are businesses and us chefs are put under a fierce amount of pressure to make as much money as possible by owners. So having a seafood chowder on allows us to use up some fish that we might otherwise have to throw in the trash.
No chef I’ve ever met would knowingly serve fish that was off. But dishes like fish cakes, pies, and chowder are a good way to turn fish’s scraps and odds and ends into money. This undoubtedly affects the quality of the dishes involved. Which would you rather a nice big chunk of Cod in your soup or a skinny little bit of fish cut from the tail or belly of the fish?
I’m not saying every restaurant is guilty, but it does happen. Plenty of good restaurants serve great chowder, teaming with chunks of freshly cooked fish and shellfish. It’s just something to be aware of in a place you’ve never been before. There’s still some unscrupulous chefs and restaurants out there.
I very rarely order a chowder myself if I’m out for dinner but for a different reason. A chowder is a meal in itself. They contain all the major food groups, and the best chowder (like this one) are really Moorish, and you need a big basket of bread for dipping and mopping up all the delicate smoky flavoured stock.
Having it for an appetizer means I won’t be able to eat the main course afterwards. Yes, indeed, there’s eating and drinking in a chowder, and the best thing about them is their easy to make. As well as soothing and comforting, a complete meal on a cold Christmas eve.
This particular recipe is like a merry-go-round of classic ingredients that love and complement each other. Smoked fish and milk. Leek and potato. Corn and milk…..whiskey and cold weather.
But you don’t have to follow this recipe strictly. Once you’ve poached the fish in the milk, you have a great stock to work from. So you could raid your fridge and see what you’ve got that need using up. Maybe some root veg or broccoli. But one ingredient it must contain is potato.
The humble spud helps to thicken it and adds to its velvety comforting texture. If you are going to use leeks in your smoked cod chowder, make sure you give them a really good wash. They seem to be particularly dirty and full of grit at this time of year. I think it must be something to do with all the bad weather and rain we’ve been having.
The one question you’ll probably have about this recipe is how much and what type of whiskey to use. The answer is it’s really up to you. Think about when you mix a drink at home. How strong you like it and do the same here. Add the whiskey a little at a time and taste as you go along till you hit the sweet spot.
Most of the time, when you’re using alcohol in cooking, you put it in at the beginning and allow it to burn off, but not here. I want you to be able to really taste the whiskey. So put it in close to the end of cooking. It gives the chowder a nice warm kick.
Whether you decide on Irish or Scotch whisky is completely your choice. Because I’m a proud Irishman, I used Jameson…that and the fact it’s what I had in the drinks cabinet. It’s generally acknowledged that Irish whiskey is smoother because it’s distilled three times to scotches two but like everything else, use what you think tastes best…….. even American.
Which will you use?Print
- 300g / 10.5oz smoked cod
- 1.2 litres / 2 pints milk
- 2 bay leaf
- 1 sprig of thyme
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 4/5 black peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 3 large shallots (finely sliced)
- 4 cloves garlic (chopped)
- 1 large leek (sliced and washed)
- 200g / 7oz sweet corn
- 300g / 11oz potato (peeled and diced)
- whiskey ( to taste)
- 1 small bunch of chives (finely sliced)
- Place your smoked cod, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, and peppercorns in a large pot then cover with the milk. Bring the milk up to the boil then turn off the heat and cover the pot with a tight fitting lid. The fish will cook and infuse the milk with a beautiful smoky flavour that you’ll use as the stock in the soup
- While the fish is cooking you can make the base for the soup. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and gently saute the shallots and garlic for about 5 minutes.
- Next add the leeks and sweet corn. Cover the soup with a lid and allowing everything to sweat for another 5 minutes.
- At this stage your fish will be cooked so remove it from the milk and strain the cooking liquor into the chowder.
- Add your diced up potatoes to the chowder than cook it for a further 15 minutes till their tender and have started to break up thickening the soup a little.
- Next add the haddock back into the soup along with the whiskey and cook for a further 5 minutes.
- Season with some black pepper and finish the chowder with chopped chives
Alternative fish – smoked haddock or smoked coley