Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Fish and bean chowder

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 Fish and bean "chowder" White beans replace the dairy in this non-traditional variation, but it's still chowder, and a fine, filling fish soup for early autumn.
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Fish and bean chowder

It's a little early to declare that the hottest summer in history in these parts is over, but we've had a couple of cool, almost crisp September mornings this week, and that's enough to start me thinking about the warm and hearty dishes that haven't been on the agenda for the last few months.

Crusty breads, baked beans, roasts, pizza ... the roster of goodies that have been in summer abeyance is a long one, and I'm looking forward to making their acquaintance again soon.

For today's discussion, a trip through my old recipe archives turned up a fine dish for early autumn, a concept I came up with maybe a decade ago on a similar September day: A hearty fish chowder rendered a bit lighter than the usual calorific concoction by the simple measure of using white beans in place of the milk or cream and butter that, however delicious they may be, turn standard chowder into a mighty heavy meal.

As discussed in our last dissertation on a more traditional cod chowder (Nov. 30, 2006 FoodLetter), the word "chowder" was coined in America in the early 1700s, and comes from the French word for the pot it was traditionally cooked in: "Chaudière," akin to "cauldron," an iron pot equipped with three legs so it would sit up over an open fire. A chowder is a thick soup or stew that usually contains clams or other shellfish or fish, potatoes and milk or cream. But it's a broad term, with more than enough room to accommodate my dairy-free variation.


(Serves two)

3 small white boiling potatoes
2-3 cloves garlic
2 green onions (scallions)
1 tablespoon (15ml) olive oil
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups (350g) cooked white beans
1/2 pound (240g) boneless white fish
Sea salt
Black pepper
Chopped parsley


1. Peel the potatoes ("fingerlings" or "creamers" are particularly good) and cut them into dice. Peel the galic and chop it fine, and chop the scallions.

2. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, then saute the minced garlic and chopped scallions until the garlic is translucent but not brown. Add the potato dice and stir once or twice, then pour in 1 1/2 cups water. Turn down to a simmer and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the potatoes are almost tender.

3. Mash about one-third of the beans into a rough puree with the back of a spoon. Stir this puree into the soup as a natural thickener.

4. Cut the fish into one-inch cubes and add it to the simmering soup, simmering gently for five or six minutes or until it's just cooked through. Stir in the rest of the beans and continue simmering until they're warmed through. Season with salt and black pepper to taste, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

MATCHING WINE: This should work very well with any crisp, acidic white; I like the touch of sticking with wines from coastal regions where seafood is abundant: A Sancerre or other dry Sauvignon Blanc; a Muscadet; a Verdicchio from Italy's Adriatic Coast or an Alvarinho from Portugal would all pass muster.

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