Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Smoked Mackerel Chowder

Mmmmmmmm, I love chowder! It took a long time for me to pluck up the courage to try making it, as I'd had so many good versions in restaurants and it always looked like it would be complicated, with a strong potential for ruining lots of nice seafood. The best way to start making chowder is to use a strongly-flavoured and robust fish, without messing around with different shellfish and getting all the cooking times correct.

On Saturdays there is a fishmonger in Cambridge market, and he sells an excellent range of fresh and smoked fish. We love the whole smoked mackerel, which work perfectly in this recipe - or just flaked on toast, or a baked potato. If you can't locate good smoked mackerel, you can try the vacuum-sealed fillets available from supermarkets, but they'll lack the creamy tenderness of properly smoked fish.

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole smoked mackerel or a packet of vacuum-sealed mackerel fillets
  • 1 peeled onion or well-washed leek
  • 1 large or 2 small potatoes
  • 2 carrots
  • 3 sticks of celery
  • large handful of parsley
  • a few bay leaves
  • 500ml vegetable or fish stock
  • 1 small tin of sweetcorn
  • 100ml cream

Strip the skin and bones from the whole mackerel, and flake the flesh into large pieces, discarding bones as you go. You can make a very strongly-flavoured stock from the skin and bones, if you have time: just boil them in a saucepan for 10 minutes. Finely chop the onion or leek and fry in a deep pan at a low heat, until it begins to go translucent. Cube the potatoes and carrots, and dice the celery and parsley. Add the vegetables and a few bay leaves to the pan, and fry with the onions for a few minutes, scooping from the bottom so they don't stick.

Add the stock and season with pepper. Don't be tempted to add salt just yet, as smoked fish is often salty itself. Cook until the vegetables are just tender - about 10 minutes. Gently combine in the flaked mackerel, drained tin of sweetcorn and the cream. You can use double cream if you're feeling luxurious, single for a tasty midweek supper, or even reduced-fat creme fraiche if you're watching the calories. Cover for a minute or two, allowing the chowder to reheat, and remove from the heat just as it comes to a simmer. Taste for seasoning; it may need a little salt at this point. Serve with crusty bread to mop up the juices.

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