Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday dinner: It's CHOWDA! Say it right!!

Hake chowder with homemade biscuits.

This was our first time making chowder - and quite a success. Chowder always seemed to us to be one of those meals that can only be had at a restaurant. But of course it's been a staple in the Northeast for years in average homes. After making it, we can see why: there's no easier or more practical winter meal than a mix of long-storing potatoes, fresh-caught winter fish, and a little dairy.

In this recipe the fillet gets chopped before being added, but as it cooks the pieces fall apart, giving the chowder that characteristic creamy texture. (In fact, this recipe actually contains no cream - only milk.) We'd be remiss if we didn't mention that this is of course a New England-style chowder, not a Manhattan or Rhode Island-style, which are tomato-based. The long and sordid history of the battle between these two chowder factions is featured extensively in The Food of a Younger Land, and we highly recommend the book to anyone invested in the question.

Faithful readers might notice that these biscuits look a little different from those we made only a short while ago - these are made mostly with whole wheat pastry flour, with only a little half-white bread flour added. Using pastry flour, which has a much lower protein content, changed the texture of the biscuits markedly: they had a much finer crumb and denser consistency.

In the past we always used to use "all-purpose" flour, which has a medium protein content and is therefore pretty versatile. But lately we've discovered the wonders of fresh-milled local bread and pastry flours, which frankly taste a lot better. We've found there's a learning curve involved because the two types of flour act differently in recipes; to cook with them, you need to get a sense of when to use each one and how to adapt recipes to cope with the higher or lower protein content. For example, bread flour can hold a lot more moisture than pastry flour, so to get a similar batter you might need to add a lot more milk or water when using bread flour.

(And by the way, yes, you DO have to say "chowda.")

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