Fresh seafood is at its finest when cooked delicately with very little accompaniment. There are a few exceptions, one is when it goes into a pot with a handful of diced potatoes and becomes a chowder.
The absolute, hands down, best chowder I have ever eaten was at Fat Freddy’s in Galway in the west of Ireland. The chowder was the final note to end a long day in bone chilling wind.
I was sightseeing in Galway with two friends from Seattle. That morning we boarded a small ferry to spend the day on Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands. A matrix of low stone walls, thatched cottages, and determined pasture land, Inis Mor is the ultimate Irish fantasy come to life. We took a short bus tour around the island and then spent the rest of our day being pummeled by gusts of late winter ocean wind and exploring prehistoric Dún Aengus Fort.
Dún Aengus is seated on top of a high cliff and the scenery was stunning. We hiked around and explored the ancient rocky grounds snapping pictures and considering the lives of the people who came before us. Even though the sun shone most of the day the wind blew away any bits of warmth it might have provided. After a few hours we had officially turned into popsicles.
After a trip to the pub to warm up with Irish Coffees, it was time to board the boat back to Galway. The same wind that chilled us so profoundly continued to whip up the sea as we traveled eastward. The boat was in a constant state of whomp, whomp, whomp and the engines strained to get us across the water. Several of the trash cans were put into use by passengers overwhelmed by the heaving motion. By the time we reached the dock everyone aboard was a wee bit green around the gills.
Back on the main land our stomachs quickly settled. The city center buildings buffered the sea air enough that we elected to stroll the meandering streets before dinner, and then promptly got lost. It was one of those annoying sorts of getting lost when you know that you are within a block or two of where you would like to be but just can’t seem to find the right street to turn on to. And it had become dark. And colder. By the time we oriented ourselves and got seated at Fat Freddy’s I almost didn’t care what I was served provided it be HOT.
What did come was a bowl of hot creamy chowder and a basket of warm brown bread. I could write an epic poem about the way the cream caressed the tender potatoes and the little morsels of seafood that nested playfully in my bowl – but I’ll spare you the emotional outburst. My first bite was still a little too warm. I could feel the heat fill me from the inside out as it traveled from my mouth to my empty stomach. And the bread, oh the bread! I am not sure how the Irish figured out how to bake it, but I would take a slice of fresh brown bread over the French variety any day of the week. It’s dense with whole wheat and bran flour laced with the tiniest touch of sweet molasses. I don’t understand why folk musicians spent all their time writing about whiskey and beer – brown bread is the real Irish intoxicant.
That day, cold as it was, is how I would like to spend my time far more often. Together with dear friends, learning new things, and enjoying spectacular scenery. The meal at the end was charming and rustic but it was shared with friends in one of the most unusual restaurants I have visited in my travels. We probably only spent about €6 on dinner but we made a memory that will last for a lifetime.
Chunks of tender potato with flavorful seafood come together in this heart warming and stomach filling chowder. Any combination of fresh seafood should work beautifully in this recipe.
- 4 oz bacon, diced
- 2 medium leeks, sliced in 1/2 inch rounds
- 4 large celery stalks, halved and diced
- 2 pounds Yukon Gold Potatoes, diced
- 1 pound Sunchokes, peeled and diced (may substitute an additional pound of potatoes)
- 2 – 8oz bottles of clam juice
- 3 cups 2% low fat milk
- 12 oz evaporated milk
- 1 pound firm white fish, cut into 1-2 inch chunks – use 2 pounds if omitting shellfish
- 1 pound assorted shell fish with shells removed – shrimp, scallops, clams, squid, mussels, etc.
- 1 or more cups of chopped parsley
- Favorite seasoning blend with or without salt
- Dice bacon and brown on medium high heat in a large dutch oven or soup pot
- Once the bacon has browned remove but leave the drippings
- Add leeks and celery to pot and allow to soften – about 5 minutes
- Reduce heat to medium and add potatoes, sunchokes, and clam juice. Simmer until potatoes are tender and sunchokes have softened
- Reduce heat to medium low and add evaporated and 2% milk
- When soup has rewarmed return bacon to the pot along with the fish
- Simmer on low to medium low making sure not to boil, until fish has cooked through – fish should be flaky, any shrimp should be fully pink
- Toss in a handful or two of finely chopped parsley and add salt and pepper if desired
- Keep on low heat until ready to serve.
- Serve each bowl of chowder with more parsley and a dash or two of your favorite herb and spice based seasoning blend.
Yield is approximately 16 cups of soup
Nutritional details will vary depending on the fish and shellfish used to make this chowder. I used whiting, scallops, shrimp, clams, squid, and krab and the result was approximately 4 PP per 1 cup of chowder
Avoca Brown Bread
It doesn’t get any more traditional and authentically Irish than this simple brown bread. Only a few minutes to whip up with a long baking time but completely worth the wait. Light enough to enjoy on its own any time of the day add a wisp of butter to take it up a notch more. Substantial enough to make into a sandwich if desired. Adapted slightly from the original recipe.
- 6 oz (1 1/2 c.) all purpose flour
- 11 oz (2 1/2 c.) whole wheat flour
- 3 Tbsp bran
- 2 Tbsp flax meal
- 2 heaping tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp molassas
- 2 1/2 cups low fat buttermilk
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
- Coat an 8″ x 5″ loaf pan with non-stick spray. Dust it with additional flax meal or bran.
- Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the molasses and stir in enough milk to give the batter a “moist but not sloppy” texture. Start with 2 cups and add more if needed.
- Turn the batter into the prepared pan and shake to level. Sprinkle a bit of bran on the top to make it pretty.
- Bake somewhere between 6 to 20 minutes, keeping an eye on the bread to see when it has risen.
- When it has risen reduce the heat to 325 and continue to bake for another hour.
- run a knife around the inner sides of the pan to loosen the bread and ease it out.
- If, when tapped on the bottom the bread sounds hollow, it is done. Otherwise place it back in the oven just on the rack without its pan, and bake a bit more, until it passes the “hollow test”, could be as many as 30 additional minutes.
- Make careful thin slices and serve. Loaf may need to cool completely to get nice thin slices. With a sharp knife and a steady hand it is possible to get 24 thin slices from one loaf.
Approximate Nutritional Information- 1 of 12 slices: 171 calories; 1.5g fat; 34g carbs; 4g fiber; 7g protein; 4 PP or 1 of 24 slices: 86 calories; .7g fat; 17g carbs; 2g fiber; 3.5g protein; 2 PP