When the weather cools…okay becomes damn cold, there’s nothing quite like a bowl of soup or chowder. This is a simple combination of leeks, salmon, fennel and three kinds of potatoes. Chowder, without heaps of freshly ground black pepper, just doesn’t cut it on The Goddess’s table….As you can see, I topped off each bowl with a good grinding of black pepper and red pepper flakes, piri-piri pepper flakes, to be exact. Then, a nice sprinkling of Condimento Picado. It added just the right finishing touch.
Chowders are such good cold weather fare. And this goes together relatively quickly and is easy to make, so you can shovel snow AND make the chowder! The first thing to do is to poach the salmon. I use a deep skillet for this. Place the salmon skin-side-down in the skillet; toss in the bay leaves and pieces of lemongrass. Pour the water over the salmon to just barely cover the salmon. Bring the liquid to the boil. Lower the heat, and simmer, cooking until the salmon is just barely cooked, about 4 minutes. Turn off the heat. Let the salmon stand for at least 15-20 minutes, which allows the salmon to finish cooking. Discard the lemongrass and drain the liquid, reserving 4 cups of the poaching liquid with the bay leaves. You’re going to use the poaching liquid to cook the potatoes. Remove the skin (and bones) from the salmon, discarding the skin, then set the salmon aside. Clearly this is not completely cooked through, but not to worry. It will finish cooking when we add it to the chowder. While the salmon poaches, get out your large, heavy-bottomed pot and set it over medium-high heat. Add the butter and ham, sautéing the ham until it begins to color, about 3-4 minutes. Dump the leeks and fennel into the pot. Lower the heat to medium-low and continue sautéing, stirring occasionally. We don’t necessarily want the veggies to brown, just soften. While this is doing its magic, dice the potatoes. Add the reserved poaching liquid (with the bay leaves), along with the russet and Yukon Gold potato cubes; cover. The water should just cover the potatoes; simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in the sweet potato cubes and continue to simmer, uncovered, until all the potatoes are tender. The liquid should reduce slightly. As you can see, I decided to leave the lemongrass pieces in while the potatoes cooked. I added the citrus zests with the sweet potatoes. Stir the cornstarch into the half-and-half, until it dissolves (sorry, no picture, but you know how to do this). Add to the simmering liquid; stir and cook until the mixture thickens (it will be quite thick). Stir in the milk and return to the simmer. Plop the salmon pieces gently on top of the potatoes; add the spinach. Cover and simmer over the lowest heat possible, for 2 minutes. Remove the lid and gently stir the mixture together, breaking up the salmon, but leaving discernible pieces. Taste and add salt or lemon juice, as needed; stir. Ladle the piping hot chowder into bowls or mugs. Sprinkle the red pepper flakes over and a few grindings of black pepper. Sprinkle with a bit of the Condimento Picado and serve with some good rolls or toast. I made this the day before serving, chilled it and then gently reheated it over low heat, stirring as infrequently as possible. If you plan to reheat, don’t break up the salmon. Then, when you reheat the chowder, you can do that so you can have nice big pieces of salmon. Word of caution—when reheating, don’t let the chowder boil or the milk may curdle, so keep that heat low and have patience. It’s worth it; I think it might have tasted even better today.
Salmon, Leek and Fennel Chowder
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups coarsely chopped leeks (fresh or frozen)
- 1 cup diced fennel bulb
- 3/4 cup diced ham steak (optional, but rather nice)
- 1 pound salmon fillets or steaks
- 2 bay leaves
- 3-4 lemongrass stems (optional)
- 1 medium-sized russet potato, peeled and diced
- 1 medium-sized Yukon Gold potato, peeled and diced
- 4 cups reserved poaching broth
- 1 medium-sized sweet potato, peeled and diced
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon grated orange or tangerine zest
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch (do not use arrowroot)
- 1 1/2 cups half-and-half
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1-2 handfuls fresh spinach leaves, stems removed
- Kosher salt
- 2-4 tablespoons lemon juice, or as desired
- For service:
- Condimento Picado
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Piri-piri flakes or red pepper flakes (optional)
Place the salmon in a deep skillet. Add the bay leaves and pieces of lemongrass; add water to just barely cover the salmon. Bring the water to the boil; lower the heat until the water just simmers (no big bubbles!). Poach the salmon until the salmon is just barely cooked, about 4 minutes. Turn off the heat; let the salmon stand for at least 15-20 minutes. Pitch the lemongrass pieces. Drain the liquid and reserve 4 cups of the poaching liquid (with the bay leaves). Remove the skin (and bones) from the salmon, discarding the skin. Set the salmon aside. If it’s not completely cooked through, that’s fine. It will finish cooking when added to the soup near the end of cooking. While the salmon poaches, heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the butter and ham; sauté until the ham begins to color, about 3 minutes. Add the leeks and fennel. Continue sautéing until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add the russet and Yukon Gold potato cubes; add the reserved poaching liquid (the water should cover the potatoes) and simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in the sweet potato cubes and continue to simmer, uncovered, until all the potatoes are tender. The liquid will reduce. Stir the cornstarch into the half-and-half, until it dissolves. Add to the simmering liquid, along with the citrus zests; stir and cook until the mixture thickens. Add the milk, stir and return to the simmer. Drop the salmon pieces into the soup; simmer until heated through. Add the spinach; cover and simmer for 2 minutes. Gently stir the mixture together, breaking up the salmon, but leaving discernible pieces. Taste and add salt or lemon juice, as needed. Serve piping hot, sprinkled with some of the red pepper flakes and freshly ground black pepper, with a sprinkling of the Condimento Picado.
NOTE: If you use a little more leek, fennel or potato, it’s not a problem. The amounts given are about what I used. If you wish, omit the ham (or use bacon), but it does give the chowder a nice bit of texture and a nice bit of smokiness. You may add 1/2 cup dry white wine as part of the poaching liquid, if you wish.
The chowder can be reheated over very low heat, stirring as infrequently as possible, until hot. DO NOT boil. Serve immediately with the garnish of choice.
Salmon, Leek and Fennel Chowder Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2018. All rights reserved.
I thought about adding some peas, but decided to add spinach instead. I do think the peas would be nice, though.
As you read the method in the recipe and the preceding explanation, you will notice there are some slight differences as to when things are added. This is how people cook, so I wanted to you to know that you have some flexibility when you follow a recipe.