“ Fire burn; and, caldron, bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog…”
Thus begins Mrs. Shakespeare’s chowder recipe which her son, William, thought so highly of that he included it in his infamous play, Macbeth. (Sorry, I have yet to recover from last Halloween). Even though it is unlikely that anyone ever created chowder from these revolting ingredients, the vessel in which the brew is bubbling – a chaudron in Breton – is indeed from whence the term ‘chowder’ is derived. The chaudron was a large iron cauldron into which Breton fishermen threw whatever catch they couldn’t sell to make a hearty communal feast. They imported the name and the practice to the Maritimes where it spread along the coast as far as
Chowders, broths and soups have been an important dietary staple since ancient times. Their enduring popularity is due to their versatility as a soup is easily improvised from a diversity of tag-ends and leftovers (I’d omit the eye of newt though). They are portable, as on long journeys colonists carried ‘pocket soups’ made of dehydrated ingredients easily reconstituted in boiling water (take that, Mr. Lipton!) and they are convenient as the Union Army used Mr. Campbell's canned tomatoes to make tomato soup during the American Civil War.
Furthermore, our modern word, soup, comes from the Old French, sope or soupe, which passed into Medieval English as sop, referring to the toasted bread over which the hot broth was poured, providing body to the broth and the means to ‘sop it up’. This lighter meal, eaten at the end of the day, became known as ‘souper’, giving us our word, supper.
Phew! What a long culinary journey; but it’s not over yet. We love soup for its comforting, restorative powers, which brings us to the public eateries of 18th century
where the flagging energies of weary travelers were bolstered by such brews as bouillon and pot au feu. These soups were aptly called restoratifs and the venues in which their nourishing properties could be consumed became known as restaurants, as the restoratifs they purveyed restored the traveler’s vigor, as my recipe for spicy seafood chowder is guaranteed to do for you. Paris
Spicy Seafood Chowder
|photo by L. Gatto-White|
- ¾ lb. cod fillets
- 6 large sea scallops, quartered
- 1 lb. raw, unpeeled tiger shrimp (30 count)
- 1 tbsp. Patak’s mild curry paste
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 ½ -2 cups fish stock (see method)
- 1 cup 18% cream (warm)
- 1 ½ tbsp. butter
- ½ tbsp. oil
- fresh chopped chives and parsley
- 1 tbsp. pickling spice in cheesecloth bag
- salt and pepper
- leaves of 4 sprigs fresh thyme chopped
- finely diced: 1 carrot, 1 celery stalk, 1 shallot, 1 leek, 2 -3 cloves garlic, ½ large sweet red pepper, 1 jalapeno
- 3 small gold potatoes peeled, cut each into six pieces
- 6 small vine tomatoes, blanched, peeled and quartered
- 1 tbsp. cornstarch
To make the stock: peel the shrimp and rinse shells well under cold water, place the spice bag and shrimp shells in 2 ½ cups cold water, bring to a boil, uncover and simmer for 15 mins. remove pot from heat and cover until needed.
Base: In a large heavy skillet melt 1 tbsp. butter with oil over medium heat, stir- in curry paste, add fish and shellfish, sauté until coated and just starting to cook, remove fish from the pan and set aside in a dish or bowl.
To the pan add half the wine and simmer, add the remaining butter and vegetables except tomatoes and potatoes, sauté until veg. are soft. Add the rest of the wine, then potatoes and tomatoes, strain –in 1 ½ cups of stock. Cover pan and simmer for 15 mins., until potatoes are soft, then add back the fish. Cover pan and simmer for 5 mins, add salt and pepper to taste. Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup cream, stir-in to chowder, add remaining ¾ cup cream, stir, and adjust seasoning and thickness if needed. Garnish with chives and parsley to serve.