I have the Claytonhusband to thank for this meal; it was his idea, more or less. Y’see, out on the farm, he digs up all sorts of lovely veggies, and sometimes they trigger his gastronomic imagination. Potatoes are the newest crop he’s pulling from the earth, and their heirloom selves have been appropriately misshapen and deliciously ugly. He fished out two particularly bulbous spuds and proclaimed them dinner, suggesting that something could be served in them were they to be rendered ‘bowl-like’, and wouldn’t something chowdery and fish-like be nice. Along with two huge cobs of the season’s last sweet corn, that was all Lolita needed. Witness my semi-deconstructed corn and fish chowder: a rich, sweet corn milk, crispy cubes of pancetta, and pan-roasted haddock piled atop a massive baked potato skin, and topped with snips of chives. Warm, rich, and delicious – perfect for a chilly autumn evening.
Fish and Corn Chowder
2 large ears fresh corn
1/2 gallon milk
cracked black pepper
2 medium or 1 very large russet potato
1/2 lb pancetta, diced
3 small shallots
1 yellow carrot
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch chives
1 lb fresh haddock (or cod, or pollack, or schrod – any flaky white fish will do)
I start by shucking and de-silkifying my corn cobs, then using my potato peeler to scrape the kernels out. Next time I’ll do this inside a large pastic bag instead of over a bowl; I got corn bits and juice EVERYWHERE. The kernels I reserve for later, but the cobs get put into play right away.
I totally have to shout out to Rooftop Gourmet, who largely guided this recipe with their very similar “Pan Roasted Cod in Fresh Corn Chowder” post back in April. In particular, the above technique of boiling corn cobs in milk really lit my fire — I’d never considered that before, although it seems so basic and natural I rather feel like a heel for not knowing about it prior to this posting. It yielded what can only be called “corn milk” – a richly, thickly, butter n’ sugar sweet corn flavored lactic dream. I set my 1/2 gallon of milk and my two denuded cobs into a large soup-pot and simmered them together with a healthy sprinkling of black pepper for about an hour – skimming the skin off the top periodically. Meanwhile, I rinsed, dried, wrapped in foil, and set my two potatoes in my preheated to 400° oven to bake for the same hour.
Pancetta is a wonderful thing. It’s a smoked, spiced, and rolled pork belly – an Italian bacon. Harvard Square’s legendary gourmet shop Cardullo’s purveyed this healthy chunk to me, at a surprisingly (for them) reasonable price. I dice it into chunks…
… then chuck them chunks into a pan to sear until crispy.
Once I’ve got a nice crispy sear on my pancetta, I remove the bits from the pan – keeping 2 or so tablespoons of the rendered fat in the pan and holding the rest to the side for later – and add in my diced aromatics: my shallots, garlic, and one large yellow carrot from the farm. I had several orange carrots, too – but I thought that the yellow would work better with the color scheme of this meal.
I sauté this mix of earth-grown goodness until all the bits have started to sweat and soften.
My potatoes are ready, too. I cut them in half, then scoop out the majority of their inner flesh, leaving two large bowls which I oil up with some of the pancetta drippings before throwing them back in the oven to crisp up a bit.
The pulled-out potato gets added to the chowder. It’s now a full-fledged soup, but I let it continue to simmer and thicken a bit, since I don’t want it too watery on my plate. I taste it often, though – ‘cuz I can’t help myself – and adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper until it tastes perfect.
I didn’t really mean to, but I sort of reassembled my two haddock filets into the whole boneless fish. This lovely lovely came from the Harvard Farmer’s Market fishmonger, Fresh Lobsters and Fish, owned and operated by Carolyn and Chris Manning. I’ve enjoyed their excellent products before (see here and here), but this is the first time I’ve tried their haddock.
Since these two filets are odd sizes, I trimmed them down into two roughly same-sized planks each, and chucked the scraps into the chowder to gently poach and flavor the soup. The planks I salt, pepper, and dust with flour.
Delicately pan-seared and balanced haddock filets top a rich, creamy, corn chowder served up in a potato bowl with crunchy, salty chunks of pancetta studded throughout. Each bite is both familiar – as chowder is to all we New Englanders – and surprising, since the flavors don’t blend until they come together on the tongue. The buttery crisp edges of the flaky white fish compliment the tough-tender spud skin and its pillowy soft interior, while the milky soup stays warm and hearty as it waits to be gobbled up with both fork and spoon. Clayton’s initial idea, a fellow-blogger’s inspiration, and Lolita’s interpretation: a meeting of minds, a medley of flavors, and one absolutely marvelous meal.