Spicy seafood chowder – hearty and spicy, loaded with fresh fish and seafood…
Who remembers the old Superman quote “ It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!”? You do? Congratulations, you win a prize! Unfortunately, it’s only my undying gratitude, though in fact most of that is just for reading this blog.
However, that quote has little to do with this post apart from introducing the idea of identity confusion.
You see, I had the hardest time deciding what to name this dish. Is it a fish stew? No…how about a soup? Or maybe a chowder?
It contains pieces of fish and seafood, but is it too watery to be considered a stew? Yet is it too chunky to be called a soup? The idea of a chowder fits the bill, but surely a chowder is cream or milk-based? Then what about tomato-based chowders like Manhattan clam or Cioppino?
We could debate it for hours, but we won’t because we’re sensible and have better things to do. However, it did start me thinking a little about our relationships with food – here a link to an interesting study on the impact of perception when it comes to how we look at what we eat.
Perhaps there is no easy answer, and it simply boils down to what we make of our own preconceived ideas. In the end though, I’ve opted to name this a chowder for no other reason than just to be a little contrary.
Inspiration for this struck while on a trip to Tasmania, and a pit stop along the east coast at Binalong Bay. Our only food option turned out to be the Moresco restaurant, but as luck would have it it turned out to be a good “choice”.
On a whim, I abandoned my initial selection of fish and chips for the restaurant’s signature seafood broth (arrggh…another naming option, but I do draw the line at “broth”), and was rewarded with plenty of seafood in a chilli and tomato-based stock. Very tasty, and heartily recommended.
So, taking that idea, I was curious to see whether I could spice things up a little and see how well the flavours of Asia might marry with a more European-style approach, like a French Bouillabaisse (which incidentally is referred to as both a stew or soup depending on the source…)
This spicy seafood chowder starts with a vegetable medley as a base (a mirepoix or soffrito), to which a hint of spice is added. The attempt here is for subtlety – enough to provide a mild spicing and complexity without overpowering the flavours from the vegetables and the seafood. Likewise aromatics like the ginger and lemongrass are added whole to infuse their flavour before being removed at the end.
The mussels are cooked off in advance, and the cooking liquor is used to bulk up the fish stock. Depending on how juicy the mussels are, you may have to top up with some water or more stock. I like to break the mussels shells in half, leaving the meat attached to just one side for ease of serving and eating, but the choice is yours.
A few other quintessential Asian ingredients like fish sauce and tamarind are added for that sweet-sour-salty balance, and the base is left to simmer for a while before the fish is added at the last minute to finish cooking.
Garnish with the obligatory coriander and spring onion, and serve with lots of crusty bread for mopping up the juices.