Is it a soup? Is it a stew? Forget it mate, what we�ve got here is a chowder: a unique �combination of firm pieces of fish and �vegetables, all swimming in a sea of exquisitely �seasoned wine and milk.
Issue date 8 June 2007

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Is it a soup? Is it a stew? Forget it mate, what we’ve got here is a chowder: a unique ­combination of firm pieces of fish and ­vegetables, all swimming in a sea of exquisitely ­seasoned wine and milk. This ­astonishing meal, well within the reach of beginner cooks, is an ­example of a cooking method invented independently and ­spontaneously wherever fishing communities have plied their craft. As such, it’s a link with the ancient human past as well as a food that opens itself for variety and ­innovation in methods and ingredients. While more commonly used with ocean fish, fresh­water fish such as tilapia and trout work equally well. And who knows, maybe some ­adventurous still-water angler out there could try a barbel?

To make a standard fish chowder sufficient to feed four diners, you will need:

• 500g frozen Cape whiting

• 1 onion

• 2 sticks of celery

• 2 carrots

• 1 cup frozen corn

• 2 potatoes

• 2 tablespoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil

• 0,5 teaspoon salt

• 0,5 teaspoon crushed black pepper

• 1 tablespoon fresh thyme

• 1 tablespoon fresh parsley

• some fresh chives

• 2 cloves of garlic

• 2 cups of milk

• 1 cup dry white wine

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We begin with a crisis crying out for final resolution: should we use butter or extra-virgin olive oil? The tradition here calls for butter, since the commonest variety of fish chowder owes its historical origins to New England cooking methods. But health and a greater complexity of flavour suggest that extra-virgin olive oil is a better way to go. Because you are going to make this dish several times in the future, experiment with both ingredients. Moving on, we prepare the fish. If the fish is fresh and whole, maybe even caught by yourself, prepare a couple of neat bone-free fillets. Otherwise, let the fish packing industry do the work for you and use the frozen Cape whiting suggested, letting the pieces thaw immediately prior to use.

Crush and peel the garlic; cut the peeled onions into thin slices. In a frying pan reduce these to a golden hash, using either butter or extra-virgin olive oil as the medium. Cut the carrots into small cubes and slice the celery into 10mm sections: add these to the frying pan, letting them cook for three or four minutes. Stir from time to time to prevent burning. Add the fish fillets, the cup of corn kernels plus the peeled and diced potatoes. Bind the twigs of fresh thyme with cotton and add this to the pan with the cup of dry white wine. Season with freshly ground coarse black pepper and salt. Fit a lid and let the contents of the frying pan cook on low to medium heat for 20 minutes or until the fish is cooked to your liking. At this point, remove the lid and with a fork break up the cooked fish into tasty chunks. Pour in the milk plus a teaspoon or two of butter and bring up the heat. Remove the bundle of thyme and sprinkle chopped fresh parsley into the mix. Just before serving, garnish each bowl with a little fresh chopped chives and maybe even a little fresh cream. What a blast! – David Basckin     |fw