Sunchoke Fish Chowder
Yes, that’s bacon sprinkled on top of an Arabic spiced New England fish chowder pictured in front of my tallis bag, which features a beautiful watercolor painting of Jerusalem. Sacrelicious, maybe, but it all makes sense – this chowder is made with Jerusalem artichokes instead of potatoes, after all.
Sunchokes (a/k/a Jerusalem artichokes) are subtly magnificent root vegetables whose creamy flavor does wonders in transforming a simple fish chowder into something special. I also added za’atar (our version is a blend of thyme, oregano, sesame seeds, and sumac) to this chowder instead of the more traditional thyme, which added an extra dimension of flavor.
I could live off of chowder perfectly happily for weeks, myself. As a kid, I sometimes did. So it’s nice to mix things up and make the ordinary extraordinary again.
Please don’t be scared away because the recipe calls for fish stock. Your fishmonger will almost certainly give you fish frames (bones and perhaps heads) for free, and unlike with meat, you won’t have to simmer your fish bones for hours. Twenty minutes of simmering, ten minutes of steeping off the heat, and you’re done.
We used to freeze fish stock in case of chowder, but it’s so quick to make (and space is at such a premium in our freezer) that we stopped bothering. Now, we just simmer up a batch each time we need it.
Sunchoke Fish Chowder
(adapted from Jasper White’s 50 Chowders)
4 oz meaty bacon, cut into 1/3″ dice
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 medium onions, cut into 3/4″ dice
2 dried bay leaves
3/8 C za’atar (recipe below)
2 1/2 lbs sunchokes (a/k/a jerusalem artichokes), peeled and sliced 1/3″ thick
5 C fish stock (recipe below)
3 lbs skinless cod fillets (make sure to remove the pinbones!)
1 1/8 C heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Put the bacon pieces in your chowder pot and render them over medium-low heat, until they have released their liquid fat and begun to crisp. You want to keep the heat fairly low to keep from burning the fat.
Remove the bacon pieces and set them aside for later.
Add the butter, onions, and bay leaves. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened but not browned. Stir in the za’atar and saute for a minute longer.
Add the sunchokes and fish stock, supplementing with water if necessary so that the sunchokes are just barely covered. Bring to a boil, cover, and let it continue to boil for 10 minutes, until the sunchokes are soft on the outside but still somewhat firm on the inside. Smash a few of the sunchoke slices in order to thicken the broth.
Reduce the heat to low and season with salt and pepper to taste. Try to overseason a bit, so you don’t have to stir too much to fix the seasoning level after the fish goes in.
Add the cod to the pot. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes, then remove the pot from the heat and let sit sit, covered, for another 10 minutes. The fish will finish cooking in this time.
Gently stir in the cream. Taste. Season further if needed.
If you have the time, let the chowder cool to room temperature and then reheat it gently before eating, in order to give the flavors a chance to meld together more fully.
2 tbsp sesame seeds, ground
1 tbsp dried thyme
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp ground sumac
Mix together. This is an unusual za’atar recipe, in that the sesame seeds are ground. Traditionally, they are left whole instead. I just like it better this way.
4 lbs. fish frames (bones & heads (gills removed))
1/2 C dry white wine
Approximately 2 quarts water
2 medium onions, very thinly sliced
4 stalks celery, very thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, very thinly sliced
2 dried bay leaves
1/4 C roughly chopped fresh parsley
6-8 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tbsp black peppercorns
Get a big pot. Combine the fish racks, wine, and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, skimming off the ick, then reduce to a simmer. Stir in all the other ingredients. Add more water to cover, if needed.
Simmer for 20 minutes.
Remove from heat, stir, and leave it to steep for 10 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth or a very fine-meshed sieve.
You can freeze this stock for later use if you have any left over.