Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Cod chowder

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 Chefs strip down for charity
A little naughty but very nice, this full-color calendar features a dozen Louisville chefs who bare it (almost) all to help a local family bear catastrophic medical expenses.
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In This Issue
 Cod chowder Named for the old-fashioned pot it was originally cooked in, a chaudière of chowder comes about as close as any dish to truly warming comfort food.
 Chefs strip down for charity A little naughty but very nice, this full-color calendar features a dozen Louisville chefs who bare it (almost) all to help a family bear catastrophic medical expenses.
 Last Week's FoodLetter and Archives Links to previous articles.
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On the road again
I'll be traveling again next week, combining family and wine business in a trip to the Orlando area and then NYC, where I'll be participating in a press event with the Italian Trade Commission. Because of my travels, the 30 Second Wine Advisor Wednesday and Friday editions and FoodLetter will take the week off. While I'm away, our online food and wine forums will still be going strong, and I hope you'll stop by!
Cod chowder

"Chowder" is one of those food words that's almost (but probably not quite) as much fun to learn about as it is to eat.

Coined in America in the early 1700s, according to the dictionary, the word "chowder" stems from for the pot it was traditionally cooked in: A French "chaudière," a three-legged iron cooking pot that sat over a fire. The French in turn reportedly inherited the term from the Latin word for "cauldron." It's related to words meaning "hot" but not, oddly enough, to "chow," which comes with another story entirely.

As with so many older food words that have had plenty of time to evolve in everyday use, chowder is loosely defined. It's a thick soup or stew that may or may not (but usually does) contain clams or other shellfish or fish, usually potatoes and often milk or cream. But you'll often see corn chower, occasionally chicken or even more uncommon base ingredients. Believe it or not, a Google search for "tofu chowder" brings up 927 hits.

And then there's the religious debate between the partisans of New England clam chowder (with milk or cream) and Manhattan chowder (tomato-based, thin and red). I like them both, but when there's a choice, I almost always favor the white, creamy New England style, and enjoy it about equally well whether it's based on clams or fish. Tofu? No thanks ... I'll save that for Asian dishes.

A pot of chowder comes about as close as any dish to truly warming comfort food, and as our extended mild autumn here shows signs of finally turning wintry soon, this seemed like an excellent time to fashion a pot. This one uses cod, one of my favorite fish, but you can substitute just about any white, flaky fish or sweet shellfish.

Like many chowder recipes, this version starts with a little meat in the form of diced pancetta that's rendered of its fat to provide your sauteeing medium and contribute delicious salty bits. Salt pork is more traditional, but I like the Italian touch that pancetta brings to dinner. You could use American bacon, but I'm not sure that its strongly smoked flavor - as addictive as it is - would work in chowder for me.

This recipe uses milk, not cream, an alternative that makes a slightly thinner, less calorific and more traditional soup; according to food historians, our great-grandparents invariably used milk in New England clam chowder. Cream is said to be a modern addition, put in to please the tourists.

It doesn't take much more than a bowl of chowder to make an evening meal. A salad or green vegetable, some crusty bread or a bowl of oyster crackers, and you're good to go. A rich white wine on the side is optional, but mighty nice.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

1 ounce (30g) pancetta
Sweet onion, enough to make about 2 ounces chopped
1 clove garlic 1/2 teaspoon (3g) fresh minced thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1 baking potato, enough to make about 1 cup (240g) diced
2 cups fish stock or clam juice
Salt
White pepper
1 cup milk
12 ounces cod fillet
1 tablespoon (15g) chopped flat-leaf parsley

PROCEDURE:

1. Dice the pancetta and cook it over medium heat in a heavy sauce pan or soup pot, using no additional fat, until the pancetta is crisp and brown and has rendered its fat.

2. Chop the onion and garlic and brown them with the pancetta in the rendered fat. Add the thyme.

3. Peel the potato and cut it into small dice. Put the fish stock or clam juice (I used reconstituted Minor's band clam "base") and the potatoes and bring to a boil; reduce heat to low, add salt and white pepper to taste, and simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through.

4. Cut the cod into 1/4-inch pieces and put them in the chowder, cooking just long enough to heat them through; avoid over-cooking. Stir in the milk and bring back to heat. Chop the parsley and add it just before serving.

MATCHING WINE:
Any rich white with a reasonable level of acidity will fare well here, from a good Chardonnay or Pinot Blanc to the full-bodied whites of Southern France and Southern Italy. I went the latter route this time around with a medium-bodied, aromatic Santa Lucia 2005 "Gazza Ladra" Fiano from Puglia in Southern Italy.

DISCUSS COOKING IN OUR ONLINE FORUMS:
If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about today's article or food and cookery in general, you're welcome to drop by our online FoodLovers Discussion Group, where I've posted this article as a new topic.
http://www.wineloverspage.com/forum/village/viewtopic.php?t=4898

Today's column is also cross-posted in the Food & Drink section in our Netscape/CompuServe WineLovers Community,
http://community.netscape.com/winelovers?nav=messages&tsn=1&tid=4958

If you prefer to comment privately, feel free to send me E-mail at wine@wineloverspage.com.

PRINT OUT A COPY OF THIS ARTICLE:
Want a copy that's easy to use in the kitchen? You'll find a simple, plain-text version of this recipe, suitable for printing, online at
http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor1/print061130.html


Public Service Announcement

http://www.louisvillehotbytes.com/?p=107
Chefs strip down for charity

When a Louisville family with long ties to the restaurant community faced catastrophic medical expenses, a dozen local chefs took it all off, or most of it anyway, posing for a tongue-in-cheek wall calendar, a PG-13-rated 12-pager in which they display just about everything but artfully concealed naughty bits.

The resulting full-color calendar, "Louisville Chefs' Best Kept Secrets," is "very tasteful but very naughty." It seeks to raise money for Christina Bayens, 26, who has had cystic fibrosis since birth. Bayens received a double-lung transplant in St. Louis last summer, a costly venture that her parents, Mark and Linda Bayens, said "was too much for us to bear alone."

Christina is doing well, but bills still have to be paid. Whether you live in Louisville or just about anywhere, we thought you might want to lend a hand ... and enjoy this gently bawdy calendar for "foodies" throughout 2007. It's on sale at many Louisville-area restaurants, and we're offering it online for $20 (plus $2 postage) through my LousvilleHotBytes Website. Click for details or to get your calendar while they last:
http://www.louisvillehotbytes.com/?p=107


Last Week's FoodLetter and Archives

Last week's Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Turkey for two (Nov. 23, 2006)
http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor1/tsfl061123.phtml

Wine Advisor FoodLetter archive:
http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor1/foodlist.phtml

30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor1/thelist.shtml


Let us hear from you!

If you have suggestions or comments about The 30 Second Wine Advisor's FoodLetter, or if you would like to suggest a topic for a coming edition and recipe, please drop me a note at wine@wineloverspage.com. I really enjoy hearing from you, and I try to give a personal reply to all mail if I possibly can. And of course you're always welcome to join the conversations with fellow foodies on our online FoodLovers Discussion Group,
http://www.wineloverspage.com/forum/village/viewforum.php?f=5


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Thursday, Nov. 30, 2006
Copyright 2006 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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