Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Florence Fennel and Catfish Chowder

     A Tasty Chowder For Cold Day!
     New England Clam Chowder by far is the most popular chowder recipe of them all.  There are at least a dozen distinctly different local Clam Chowders that are offered on menus at restaurants along the Northeast Coastline, from Virginia Beach to Maine.  There are many other kinds local chowders that are very popular too, like Shrimp Chowder and Key West Conch Chowder.  It just goes to show that chowder can readily be adapted to locally available seafood and the taste preferences of the local population.
     Chowder cooking is local fishing village cuisine.  It does not matter whether the fishing village is a big community in Rhode Island or the village is just a group of campers down by the Mississippi River.  As long as shellfish are gathered or fish are caught, a chowder can be made.  Chowder can be made with just about anything that is harvested from an ocean, lake, river or stream.
     Catfish Chowder?  Sure!  Why not!  ...  Fish Chowders are usually prepared as a Red Chowder, but mild tasting whitefish is good for making a White Chowder.  Catfish are abundant and they are easy to catch, so they are a good option for making local fishing pond style chowder.
     Catfish is a delicate flaky whitefish that is perfect for a White Chowder.  Florence Fennel, Finocchio, Fennel Bulb and Anise Bulb are all the same vegetable.  Fennel Bulb adds a very light anise flavor to this chowder.  The flavor of the salt pork can be easily noticed too.  Today's Florence Fennel and Catfish Chowder has a soothing flavor that is perfect for a chilly day.

     Florence Fennel and Catfish Chowder:
     This recipe yields about 2 1/2 cups!
     Step 1:  Heat a sauce pot over medium low heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
     Add 1 tablespoon of finely chopped salt pork.
     Gently sauté till some of the grease is rendered out of the salt pork.
     Step 2:  Raise the temperature to medium/medium low heat.
     Add 2 tablespoons of small chopped onion.
     Add 2 tablespoons of small chopped celery.
     Add 1/3 cup of diced fennel bulb.
     Sauté the vegetables till they just start to become tender.
     Step 3:  Add just enough flour, while stirring, to soak up the excess grease in the pan and to make a roux.  (about 3 or 4 teaspoons)
     Cook and stir the roux for about 1 minute, so it combines.
     Step 4:  Add 1 1/2 cups of fumet.  (white fish stock)
     Add 1/2 cup of milk.
     Add 1/2 cup of cream.
     Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.  Stir the chowder often as it thickens.
     Step 5:  Add 1/2 cup of diced potato.
     Add 1 small pinch of nutmeg.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.  (The salt pork is quite salty, so taste the soup before adding sea salt!)
     Return the liquid to a gentle boil.
     Step 6:  Reduce the temperature to medium low/low heat.
     Simmer till the potatoes start to become tender.  Allow the volume of the chowder to reduce to about 2 1/2 cups.  The chowder should be a medium thin consistency that can coat a spoon.
     Step 7:  Cut a 5 ounce catfish filet into small bite size pieces.
     Add the catfish to the soup.
     *Dot not stir the chowder after adding the fish or the fish will break up into tiny pieces!
     Step 8:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Simmer the chowder for about 5 minutes, so the flavors meld.
     Keep the chowder warm over very low heat or in a 135ºF bain marie.
     Ladle the Florence Fennel and Catfish Chowder into a large soup bowl.
     Garnish with a green fennel top sprig.
     Serve with Oyster Crackers on the side.

     Florence Fennel and Catfish Chowder has an interesting delicate flavor!

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