I confess here that I never used to enjoy a variety of fish. I was strictly a swordfish, tuna and cod kind of girl, but over the last couple of years I have made a concerted effort to branch out. Trout was one of the fish I never thought I would like, but recently I have come to love it.
One of the things that I have always loved was smoked foods. ANYTHING smoked = good. I cannot tolerate salmon cooked, but smoked salmon is heaven. Smoked salt, smoked paprika, I love my single malt scotch all peaty and smoked and Islay bound. Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Ardbeg all heaven, like drinking the essence of a fire.
During the summer I started picking up packages of Duck Trap smoked fish for cocktail hour because my stepdad is a big fan. He loves the smoked mackerel, which I like as well, but my favourite is the smoked trout. I had picked up a package in Trader Joe's a week ago and an idea for a chowder had been simmering in the back of my mind.
Yesterday out on my travels after cutting off 12 inches of my hair off and buying new clothes...what else do you do after a major haircut(?), I swung by the Whole Foods on the Winchester line and picked up some Duxbury Oysters and a few other ingredients and headed home. Oh and in case your interested...they had cardoons! I never, ever see cardoons. I'm going to read up first and then go back and get some of them to try. Anyway, back to the chowder. While I was driving home I realised that the one tool I do not posses is an oyster knife.
I was doing a mental inventory of husbands tools and trying to figure out how the heck I was going to open those oysters without stabbing my palm and bleeding all over them. When I spied a small knife, rather like a cheese knife in one of my drawers, you can see it in the top right of the photo above, so I wrapped each oyster in a dish towel folded thick and began to wedge away at the hinge. It took a few tries on some of the beasts, but as you can see in the bowl I have a nice supply of oysters and the glorious liquor with them.
When I went to start my chowder base I also remembered that I had a great fat medium in the meat drawer. Instead of the typical salt pork or blanched bacon that most chowder bases use, I was going to use guanciale. I picked mine up at Russo's a few weeks ago, but Bill over at John Dewar in Newton has told me that he will start carrying it again soon. Guanciale, for the uninitiated is cured pig cheek. Like salt pork, it can be too salty to cook without removing some of the surface salt, so I did blanch it for a few seconds in boiling water. The flavour is much more intense and tasty compared to salt pork and it is the true product to use if you are making an authentic carbonara. Don't worry, if you make this chowder you can use bacon, pancetta or salt pork, whatever you like or can find, I just happened to have some guanciale around.
I hit the fridge, grabbed some more ingredients and the chowder was off. I was really pleased with the result, base not too thick, plenty of smokiness from the trout, a hint of the Mediterranean with saffron and briny sea from the oysters all in about 30 minutes. Go on try it, let me know what you think.
Smoked Trout and Duxbury Oyster Chowder
6 Duxbury Oysters, cleaned, shucked (keep the liquid - the liquor)
1 8 oz package of Smoked Trout, I prefer Duck Trap, skin removed and pieces broken up by hand into various sized chunks
1 ounce guanciale, chopped into small cubes and blanched in boiling water for 30 seconds, drain
1 leek, rinsed well, sliced into thin half moons
1 bunch of scallions, white and green kept separate (they go in at different times)
2 TBS flour
2 TBS chopped chives
4 cups fish fumet (if you can't find bones to make your own fish stock, substitute clam juice from the grocery store or seek out a good fishmonger, mine sells house made fish fumet(stock) frozen)
4 ounces heavy cream, I prefer HighLawn Farm as theirs is NOT Ultra Pasteurized which really ruins cream for cooking, plus it tastes amazing
1 pinch of saffron threads crushed in the palm of your hand or in a mortar and pestle
kosher salt and pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, over medium heat, sauté the guanciale until it begins to render some of the fat and the pieces begin to crisp up. When the pieces are uniformly browned, add the leek and stir. Toss in 2 TBS water and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks have softened. Add the white scallion pieces and stir again. Cook for 2 minutes and add the chopped chive and green scallion tops and stir again. Sprinkle over the flour and stir everything well, cooking for 1 minute. Now pour in your fish fumet, clam juice or fish stock and cream and stir, turn up the heat to medium-high and bring to a high simmer or even a low boil (180 - 212) stirring occasionally. The base should begin to thicken slightly. Turn the heat down to low and add the saffron threads and the smoked trout, put on a lid and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes to allow the fish to warm and the taste to permeate the chowder base. Taste your chowder, add salt and pepper to season it and if the fish still hasn't permeated everything, put the lid back on and cook for 5 more minutes. Just before serving, taste a final time and adjust seasonings and add the oysters. These will cook in about a minute, so don't leave it long on the stove after they go in.
Serve with a nice crusty bread and a bottle of Conclass Rueda - 2006. So good.