Thursday, March 26, 2015

Soup of the Month: Hearty Bluefish Chowder

As we entered the last week of March, I started wondering how I was going to handle the Recipe of the Month post. True, I'd already tried one new vegetable-based recipe in March, but it wasn't a soup or a salad, which was what I'd pledged in January to try every month this year. I was toying with the idea of going ahead and counting it anyway, but before I was reduced to that, Brian came to the rescue. Last night, he conjured up a brand-new soup out of his own imagination and an assortment of odds and ends pulled out of the freezer, fridge, and pantry.

Although this soup is heavy on the veggies, it isn't vegetarian. We happened to have some bluefish filets in our freezer, so Brian decided to build the soup around that. As an aside, this fish has an ecofrugal story attached to it. We originally received it as a gift from my folks, who had more of it than they could eat. The reason they had so much is that they had, in turn, received several pounds of it as a gift from a friend who'd gone on a fishing trip and caught nothing but bluefish—which he, unfortunately didn't like. So rather than let it go to waste, he gave it away to them, and they shared the bounty with us. Waste not, want not—a fitting starting point for this out-of-thin-air soup.

His original plan was to supplement the fish with some white beans we also had in the freezer, for an extra boost of protein. But upon consideration, he realized that the white beans might come in handy for Pasta e Fagiole, which is another favorite soup of ours, so he substituted a can of chick peas instead. Then he started chucking in whatever vegetables he had to hand: carrots, celery, onion, potato. To season it, he thought something along the lines of Old Bay Seasoning would be appropriate, so he looked up the ingredients and did his best to reproduce the flavor with what we had in the spice cabinet. As a result, his recipe has quite a long list of ingredients, many of which are only added in tiny amounts:
BRIAN'S HEARTY BLUEFISH CHOWDER 
1 - 2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 large potato, diced
1/2 - 1 lb bluefish, cut into small chunks
1 can (15 oz, about 2 cups) cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp ground ginger
pinch black pepper
pinch nutmeg
pinch cardamom
pinch allspice
water to (just) cover 
Saute veggies briefly in oil. Add remaining ingredients and heat to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, mostly covered, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are soft (about 45 minutes).
That's a lot of different ingredients, but I must say, the overall effect was very satisfying. Between the fish, chick peas, and chunks of potato, the soup was very thick and hearty, and the seeming hodge-podge of seasonings actually blended together into a very harmonious whole. The resulting soup was not only rich and flavorful, it was so substantial that I actually couldn't finish my bowl. (Admittedly, I'd also had one and a half whole-wheat biscuits, but since I typically eat a full bowl of soup and two biscuits, this soup is definitely extra filling.)

If you want to make this soup yourself and don't want to mess around adding a pinch of this and a dash of that, you could probably just add a couple of teaspoons of Old Bay—or one of the many homemade versions of it you can find online—and get much the same effect. Prepared that way, it should be pretty easy to make, and definitely worth the effort. Especially if you have several pounds of bluefish you need to use somehow, and grilling season is still a couple of months away.
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