Saturday, February 16, 2008

Fish Chowder with a Thai twist

Even though I live in a city, close by there aren't any independent fish markets. Our grocery stores carry fresh fish, but I don't like it much. The flesh is soft. Makes me think the fish has been treated somehow. And I never think the fish is truly fresh. The cardinal rule is that if fish smells fishy, it probably isn't fresh. Even though I know they aren't supposed to. I'm leery of a lot of shrimp I see, because of the horror tv programs I've watched about the dirty, filthy pens they're raised in, mostly along Asian coasts, and how vegetation won't even grow near these pens because the water has been so destroyed from the detritus from the shrimp. Shrimp is the number one desired fish among Asian consumers, apparently. Shrimp caught in our waters aren't all that great, either, with moderate levels of mercury.

Our closest independent fish market (that presumably carries fish and shellfish from reputable sources and not the endangered species - although they did have Chilean Sea Bass, which I didn't buy) is about 10 miles away, and it's down a busy freeway that clogs with traffic unless you return before about 11:00 am. So I don't go there very often. But yesterday I had to drive about 13 miles that direction to buy the very best Italian sausage and stopped at this fish market on the way back.

Freezing fresh fish isn't what I like to do, either, so I buy only what we can eat immediately. I bought about a pound of "chowder chunks" (halibut, swordfish, cod, tilapia) and some rock shrimp. I told the fish monger I didn't want any salmon or tuna in the mixture, which he was kind enough to do. For me, the addition of tuna and salmon overpowers a fish stew. Also bought some ready-made ceviche that we enjoyed with lunch, along with about 5 ounces of fresh Dungeness crabmeat which went on a lovely green salad.

I used a couple of recipes to concoct this fish stew/chowder. It took about 35 minutes to put together, start to finish. First I sauteed a bit of pancetta in olive oil (you could use bacon and next time I will), then added a large onion, chopped, two small leeks, chopped, about 2 cups of chopped celery, also some fresh spring garlic (look like green onions, but they're young garlic and you could just add one clove of regular garlic, minced) a bit of jalapeno, and some mushrooms. Then I added some seafood stock (mine came from Penzey's, and it's a concentrate you mix with water) but you could use clam juice instead, or even chicken broth. A can of light coconut milk, some red bell pepper minced, and 4 stalks of lemon grass, cut in half lengthwise. That stewed for a bit, then I removed the lemon grass, added a bit of thyme, and about a cup of fat-free half and half (or use the real thing) and a big splash of heavy cream. Once that came to a simmer I added all the chowder chunks (cut into smaller bite-sized pieces) and the shrimp (snipped into smaller pieces) and allowed it to just rumble even below a simmer for 3-4 minutes. Done. I was all out of cilantro, otherwise I would have sprinkled some on top. This recipe makes a thin broth, yet creamy. And the fish chunks were lovely. It was an easy dinner, served with a couple of slices of fresh sourdough bread. The best part is that I have enough for another dinner as leftovers. I'll reheat it very gently so the fish doesn't break apart. This wasn't a "wow," over the top kind of dish, but it was warm and tasty for a cold winter's night.

Fish Stew with a Thai Twist
Serving Size : 6
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup pancetta -- chopped, or bacon
1 large onion -- peeled, chopped
2 cups celery -- chopped
2 small leeks -- trimmed, chopped
1/3 cup red bell pepper -- chopped
1 whole garlic clove -- minced
1 small jalapeno chile pepper -- minced, optional
1/2 cup mushrooms -- sliced
3 stalks lemon grass -- trimmed, halved lengthwise
6 cups fish stock -- or clam juice
14 ounces light coconut milk
1 cup half and half -- or use fat-free
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 pound fish fillets -- chopped in bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup fresh shrimp -- chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1. Warm the olive oil in a large stock pot, then add the pancetta. When it's just begun to brown, add the onion, celery and leeks. Saute for a few minutes, then add the garlic, jalapeno, mushrooms and lemon grass stalks. Lastly add the red bell pepper.
2. Add the fish stock and bring to a simmer, reduce heat and continue to bubble lightly for about 15 minutes. Remove lemon grass and discard.
3. Add the coconut milk, half and half and heavy cream and bring back to a simmer. Add the thyme, then add the fish chunks and gently bring back to a simmer. Allow to cook for just 3-5 minutes just BELOW a simmer. Serve.
Per Serving: 492 Calories; 29g Fat (54.9% calories from fat); 28g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 134mg Cholesterol; 901mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 3 Lean Meat; 1 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 4 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.
Printer-friendly recipe, click title at top.


Toffeeapple said...

That has made my mouth water! I adore anything fishy. You mention Dungeness crab, that is the name of a place in England, is there also one in USA?

Carolyn T said...

Yes, Dungeness crab comes from our Pacific coast, and are native to an area from the Aleutian islands (Alaska) to Santa Cruz, a town south of San Francisco. But they're most common in Washington State, where their name comes from the town of Dungeness. But they are a specific crab species, so maybe the species grows in other areas of the world too. I don't know.

Toffeeapple said...

Thank you for that response - I am always amazed by the things that I learn from people I meet on the Internet. Now I shall have to find time to investigate Dungeness in Washington State. And, whether we have Dungeness crabs too!