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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Northwest Salmon Chowder

Our great northwest neighborhood includes the best salmon in the world, the richly delicious King Salmon. This critter is not only packed with those good-for-you Omega-5's, but it tastes like no other fish on earth. The deep orange flesh of the wild-caught King can't be mistaken for any other salmon. And once you've eaten wild, fresh King salmon, you will be spoiled forever!

Unfortuneately, due to the scarceness and the cost of bringing it to market, the price can reach upward of $20 a pound or more. For those of us in the northwest who may know someone or be fisherman ourselves, the treat of a King salmon may grace our dinner tables more frequently. For the rest of you, at those prices, using King salmon in a chowder may seem downright sacreligeous. But a good sized wild-caught King can weigh in easily at upwards of 30 pounds! And even in the supermarket they can be 12-15 pounds. So if you are looking for something to do with the leftovers from a neighborhood barbeque or want an incredible way to stretch the treat so more can sample the King's greatness, here is your recipe!

Northwest Salmon Chowder

Of course you can skip the fish stock part and just make the chowder with water and the rest of the ingredients, but I believe the rich, oily salmon fish stock as a base makes the chowder richer and much more deeply satisfying. Next time you buy a whole salmon, have the butcher wrap up the carcass for you. Freeze it until you need it or make the stock up and freeze it until needed.

For Fish Stock:

1 cleaned King salmon head and bones
8 cups cold water
3 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf

Into 8 cups of fresh cold water in a heavy stock pot, place the head and bones of a cleaned salmon carcass along with salt, pepper corns and 1 bay leaf. Bring to boil and simmer, creating a fish stock. Pour off stock through a colander. Pick salmon meat out of the cooled carcass and set aside.

For Chowder:

1 pound red potatoes

1/2 pound sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide strips
1 medium onion, chopped

2 carrots, sliced and chopped
2 cups chopped scallions (from 2 bunches)
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
4 cloves of finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
2 Turkish or 1 California bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes
3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 pounds of wild King salmon fillet, skin discarded and fish cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Garnish: chopped fresh chives


Cook bacon in heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from pot. Cook scallions, corn, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and red-pepper flakes in fat in pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender, about 5 minutes.

Add milk, cream and 5 cups of fish stock to pot and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to moderately low, add potatoes, carrot, salmon, bacon, salt, and pepper and cook, gently stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender and salmon is just cooked through and begins to break up as you stir, 10-15 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Discard bay leaf before serving.

Active time: 30 min Start to finish: 45 min
Makes 8 servings