12 January 2012

Fish Chowder and Crusty Bread

The weather is not exactly frosty here in Portugal.  As I walked around town yesterday, I had on a long sleeve shirt and a sweater vest. All around me were people stubbornly making the most of their winter wardrobes-- full length wool jackets, fur collars, chunky knit scarves and knee high leather boots.  I couldn't help but smile, thinking of how the Vermonters I used to live and work with would be happy to run around in t-shirts on a 60-degree sunshiney afternoon.

Nonetheless, winter is here juuuuust enough, and as night falls I am cozied up in my favorite sweater and leggings and socks imagining what warming dinners I can make in the next few weeks before spring arrives. The first thing on my cold weather menu is hearty and healthy all in one, and slightly adapted from a meal my sister-in-law made us in DC this fall.

The fish I used here is a Portuguese staple: tamboril, or monkfish.  You know, this guy:

It's not a pretty face, but the beauty lies within.  Tamboril is a meaty, tender fish, with the virtue of having no tiny little bones to pick out.  And in a rustic fish stew, it holds its shape and texture while keeping the calorie count down a bit.  (New Year's Resolutions have to last at least a couple of weeks, right?)

Added to this simple meal is only a small loaf of crusty bread.  I have a Venezuelan friend to thank for this one.  He raved about it to me, and he was right!  You make up a batch of the dough, keep it stored in a little bowl for up to two weeks, and simply bake it up each day when you want to eat it.  The idea is from the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and if you need a bit of positivity and confidence-building as you begin breadmaking at home, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  It will make you feel like a magician of the kitchen, no matter what your starting experience or skill level.

And the results? Fresh, hot bread!  Every day for a week!  (OK, so I don't make very often and I still buy fresh bread from the baker down the street.  But it is nice to know that when I DO make it, I will be reaping the rewards for a few more days to come.)

Whether you are in Lisbon or in colder climes, try this delicious fish chowder and fresh bread whenever you want to warm your belly on a frosty night.

Fish Chowder
serves 6
recipe courtesy of my sis-in-law, and in her words.
(Any changes I made are in red... and this recipe seems to be happily adaptable to your own tastes and whatever you have on hand!)
3 teaspoons butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
4 small stalks of celery, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 red pepper
1/2 green pepper
1 small linguiça, sliced
12 oz vegetable stock
12 oz water
4 small red potatoes, cubed
1 cup whole milk
1.5 cups fat-free evaporated milk
3 tbls flour
2 tsp Old Bay-- I didn't have this, so I relied on the linguica to give it a kick.
Bay leaf
Salt and pepper
1.2 lb Tamboril in cubes-- Mahi Mahi was the original fish used, and that works excellently as well.
2 cups corn (frozen is fine)
2 tsp fresh parsley
2 tsp fresh dill

1. Melt 1 tsp of the butter in a large stockpot, add finely chopped onion, celery, garlic, red and green pepper, and linguiça. Sweat these until the vegetables are soft.
2. Add broth, water, potatoes, bay leaf, and about 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper
3. After bringing it to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Cover and let simmer until the potatoes are soft –should be about 15-20 minutes.
4. In the meantime, whisk the flour in with the whole milk until smooth. Chop up your fish into spoonable-bite-sized pieces. Enjoy some wine, time-permitting.
5. Once the potatoes are soft, add in the corn, fish, remaining 2 tsp of butter and stir. Then add in the milk and flour mixture, and the evaporated milk [note: the original recipe said add these first, but I get nervous about curdling]. Bring it all to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for an additional 5-10 minutes, giving it a stir every now and again. Reassure nervous husband and patient guests that dinner is almost ready. Once the fish is cooked, you're good to go! Oh and pull out the bay leaf. Duh. 
6. Sprinkle chowder with chopped parsley and dill and serve with crusty bread. 

Fresh Crusty Bread
I can't in good conscience print just the recipe here, since the source has so many general tips and tricks which make all the difference in your success.  So I will merely point you to the recipe and tips all in one article: Five Minutes A Day for Fresh Baked Bread.  The recipe I used was the first one, the Master Boule.

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