Most of the time I shop at Wegman's, which is such a fantastic store! I feel sorry for people who don't have one near them. I really do. Anyway, they have big bags of individually frozen tilapia fillets that I buy because fish is the one thing that my boys will consistently eat. The only problem is that we always end up with an odd number of fillets left over (like 2 or 3), and it's hard to make a meal for 4 out of that little fish. When that happens, I either go to fish tacos or chowder (chowdah! 'Cause it's just fun to say).
So tonight I went with chowder. It's simple enough. I know I say that a lot, but soup really is so forgiving. I'm going to post the recipe below, but know that all the amounts are approximate (I rarely measure when I make soup and just add things until it looks tasty and tastes the same), and I encourage you to adjust it to your tastes...and what you've got in your fridge. You can even use different types of fish or seafood. I've made this basic chowder with salmon (even smoked salmon), shrimp, mussels and tilapia. Personally, I like it best with a lighter fish like tilapia, but it tastes good no matter what you add, really.
In the background of the above picture, you may notice a nearly-empty bottle of something. It happens to be the very last bits of some homemade hot sauce (not made by me, alas, but my friend, neighbor and fellow food enthusiast, Matt Smith). Please, let us bow our heads for a moment of silence in recognition of the demise of that oh-so-tasty hot sauce. I mention this because I love a little hot sauce on my chowdah. You can see how the sauce lends such a beautiful color to it, not to mention cutting a little of the richness. I suppose, if you don't have a friend who can make you some homemade stuff, you can get by (as I will now have to do) with tabasco or sriracha, both really good substitutes.
Marna's Fish Chowdah
about 5 small, red potatoes, cut in half (or quarters if large-ish)
1/2 cup water
1 slice bacon, chopped in small pieces (or I just cut a couple of hunks off the end of bacon that I keep in the freezer)
1 medium onion, diced
2 large stalks celery, diced
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 8 oz bottle clam juice
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
2-3 tilapia fillets (about a pound total), thawed, if previously frozen
1 3 oz tin of smoked mussels, drained of oil and rinsed (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup milk
hot sauce (optional)
1. Steam potatoes with 1/2 cup water for 5-6 minutes, using whatever method makes you comfortable. I have a steamer I can use in the microwave, so I usually use that method. Steaming the potatoes before adding them to the chowder just decreases the cooking time for the soup.
2. While the potatoes steam, heat a 3 qt. saucepan on medium high, then add the bacon and cook until crispy. Remove from pan, but leave the rendered (melted) fat in the pan. Add the diced onion and celery to the bacon fat and cook until the onion is softened, about 3 minutes. Stir occasionally to keep the onions from burning.
3. In a small cup, mix the cornstarch with 2 Tbsp of the clam juice, until the mixture is completely smooth. Add the remaining clam juice to the saucepan with the onions and celery. Stir to combine, then add the cornstarch mixture and stir again. Add the steamed potatoes and the corn, then add enough water to just cover all the veggies. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to medium low and let the vegetables simmer for 7-10 minutes (until the potatoes are completely cooked through). The liquid should be bubbly and looking a little thick (that's the cornstarch working its magic).
4. Cut tilapia fillets into bite-sized chunks, then add to the saucepan, then dump in the mussels, if using. Let the whole thing cook until the fish chunks are completely cooked through, about 2-3 minutes (it really doesn't take long). Taste broth and check for saltiness. Because of the clam juice and bacon, I wait to add any salt until this point. It often doesn't need much more, if any.
5. Turn off the heat, add back in the bacon, plus the cream and milk. Stir to combine. Taste again and add salt and pepper if it needs it.
Serves about 6