This recipe has been perfected over the years due to necessity. As a transplanted Bostonian living in 5 different countries, from time to time I would find myself craving an authentic New England Chowder. Perhaps my craving was triggered by a drizzly, misty day outside. Or, perhaps it was inspired by a summer day spent in sun and sand at the seashore. Or, maybe it was just because I was feeling wistful for home. No matter the case, there was one thing I could be assured of - in Geneva, London or Copenhagen I would be hard pressed to find a good authentic chowder. This is when what I consider the Darwinian component of living and eating abroad would rear its head. It's a simple and proactive means of survival: If you can't find it, you make it yourself. This attitude is essential to those nostalgic culinary moments all expatriates share. While the key to a happy expat experience is to embrace the local culture, there must be forgiving moments of indulging one's roots and origin and consuming comforting recipes that Mom used to make, all in the spirit of balance.
So, finding myself far from New England and craving a creamy, salty, smoky and fishy chowder, I began making my own in 1992 when I lived in Geneva. I had the advantage of a few tricks in my repertoire, namely my experience at The-Best-Ever-University-Job years before: bartending at the venerable and esteemed Legal Seafoods restaurant in Cambridge. I took many things away from that fun experience including a taste for and basic understanding of seafood and good chowder. So I incorporated this knowledge as my own recipe evolved while I moved from Geneva to London and then to Copenhagen. The end result is a recipe that is incredibly simple in ingredients and execution, with the one variable being the fish.
Originally, in Geneva I made the chowder with the little vongoles I found at the market in the fish department. Vongoles are tiny versions of little neck clams traditionally used in New England Clam Chowder. While they added the right flavor, I found their tiny size underwhelming. When we moved to London, I experimented with the prolific smoked cod found in the markets, and this was the highlight of my experimentation. The cod added a wonderfully deep and savory smoked flavor to the chowder, while the texture of the cod gave it a toothsome and satisfying bite. In Copenhagen, I found it surprisingly difficult and exceedingly expensive to find smoked cod, so I substituted smoked haddock and dry smoked salmon in its place as a smaller fish component, while using chunks of regular cod and/or halibut as the white fish.
Now I am back in the U.S. and I continue to make this recipe at home. When we go out to restaurants chowder is on the menu, but, you know what? I prefer my own.
Salmon and Cauliflower Chowder
This recipe includes cauliflower which I find perfectly compatible with the cream-based soup and salmon. It also adds texture and substance for a one dish meal.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
One medium onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons flour
1 lb. (500 g.) russet or yukon potatoes, cut in 1/2" dice (peeling optional)
5 cups water
2 cups cauliflower florets (1/2" pieces)
1 cup (250 ml.) heavy cream
1/4 lb. (125 g.) dry smoked salmon, broken in pieces
1 lb. (500 g.) salmon filets, skin removed, cut in 1" pieces
Salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper
Melt butter in pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until they sweat, about 2 minutes. Add flour and cook stirring, 3 minutes. Add water and potatoes. Simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are just tender, about 20 minutes. Add cauliflower and continue to simmer until cauliflower is tender, 6-8 minutes. Stir in heavy cream and salmon. Cook, stirring over medium heat until salmon is cooked through, breaking some of the pieces up with your spoon. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve in warm bowls with extra ground black pepper.