Editors Note: My older brother Art forwarded me this recipe which he committed to writing. He is also a talented cook with a flair for adapting recipes commando style. Maybe we will get more out of him in the near future.
Since moving to Maine I’ve eaten a lot of clam chowder, fish chowder and lobster stew. Unfortunately, many of these dishes that one gets in restaurants are thick, gloppy, pasty, somewhat tasteless concoctions that could hold a spoon vertical without difficulty. Most have been sitting for hours on low heat awaiting an order. Overcooked lobster and clams are truly awful, rubbery and devoid of the lovely, delicate flavors that properly cooked seafood has. I’ve also found truly remarkable fresh, local seafood that goes beyond lobsters, including local cod, swordfish, tuna, shark, skate, salmon, striped bass, clams, oysters, mussels and a variety of other, less well-known fish like wolfish (uglier than a monkfish, if that’s possible) and cusk, a relative of the cod. I’ve been having a good time creating new twists on traditional Maine dishes. The search for good chowder has resulted in the recipe below. It’s a cross between traditional lobster stew and fish chowder and is almost orgasmically delicious. It’s a lot of work to make the lobster broth but, trust me, it’s worth it.
Art’s Seafood Chowder
Two 2 lb lobsters
2 tbs butter
1 large onion
2 stalks celery with leaves
6 cups seafood stock (Use home made if possible, or a good low sodium store bought such as those available at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s etc.)
Editor’s Note: I like bottled clam juice to juke up a fish stock or chowder. One or two bottles can go an awfully long way.
Steam the lobsters (don’t boil them) in a large pot with no more than 1 inch of water. Get the water boiling hard and add lobsters, cover and cook for only 4 minutes. They will finish cooking in the chowder. Save the cooking water.
Cool the lobsters on a baking sheet that will catch any liquid that seeps out. Clean the tail and claws of meat, and the body if you have the patience, over the baking sheet to catch the liquid. (Hint: break off the legs and use a rolling pin to extract the meat inside. You’ll be surprised at how easy this is and how much meat comes out.) Save the shells and bodies but clean off the gills, the fuzzy strips on the side of the body, and discard. I don’t add the tamale to the broth because the green color doesn’t make an appetizing broth, so clean that out of the bodies after you remove the carapace.
Break up the bodies and shells and sauté for about 5 minutes in the butter over medium heat. Mash up the bodies as much as you can. Add the lobster cooking water, any liquid that is left over from cleaning the lobsters and the 6 cups of seafood stock. Add onion, celery and carrot (no need to chop) and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered for 1 hour. Strain and discard the lobster shells and vegetables. This stock will keep for several days in the fridge or can be frozen.
Making The Chowder:
4 strips of bacon or salt pork
2 large onions
2 stalks of celery
3 cups diced Yukon Gold potatoes
6 tbs flour
4 tbs of butter
Reserved lobster meat
1 lb scallops
1 lb haddock
Any other white fish you like, such as halibut or cod (optional)
1 qt half and half
Sauté 4 strips of bacon or a few slices of salt pork over medium heat in a large stock pot. Render out as much fat as possible and remove the crispy bits. Some people add these as a topping to the chowder but do as you please. Now add the butter to the bacon drippings. Alternatively, substitute two tablespoons of butter for the bacon fat and melt all the butter.
Cut the onion into reasonably large pieces, maybe ½ inch. Dice the celery much finer. Sauté the onions and celery until soft, maybe 5 minutes, and add the flour to make a roux. Sauté this on medium low heat, stirring and being careful not to brown the flour. If the heat is too high just add a little olive oil and lower the heat. The olive oil will keep the butter from browning. After about 5 minutes add all the lobster stock. Start by adding only a few cups and whisking vigorously with a wire whisk to get all the lumps out. Then add the rest of the stock. Now raise the heat and bring to a boil. You won’t know how thick this will be until it boils so be sure to get it to that point. It should be a little thicker than you want. Personally, I like this chowder on the thin side but you can adjust this to your preference. Now lower the heat and add the half and half. From this point on do not boil.
In a separate pan boil the Yukon gold potatoes in salted water after pealing and cutting into ½ inch dice. Cook these to “fork tender”.
Cut the fish and lobster into spoon sized pieces. People shouldn’t have to cut them once they’re in the soup. I do, however, like to keep some of the lobster in pieces big enough to be recognized as lobster. If the scallops are big, cut then into pieces that can be eaten easily.
Add the potatoes, scallops, fish and lobster to the chowder. Keep on medium low or low heat; do not allow this to boil and the fish will cook gently in the soup. The lobster will also finish cooking. This will only take a few minutes so be careful not to overcook. As I said, overcooked lobster is really not worth eating. Salt and pepper the chowder to taste. I like a lot of coarse black pepper in this soup but you can adjust the salt and pepper to taste. Just be sure to taste the chowder and add the salt and pepper.
Serve with oyster crackers.
Chowder will keep in the fridge for several days but do not freeze or bring to a boil again, only heat up enough to serve. Freezing and boiling can cause the chowder to break, making it look like curdled milk. The taste is still good but the appearance is less than appetizing. The taste improves if the chowder is made the day before you want to serve it and kept in the fridge.