Submitted by Alex in Cologne, MN
Note: Simply add the whole fillets to the chowder, cook it a few minutes longer, and remove it from the heat, without stirring it again. When you reheat the chowder, the fillets will break into lovely big chunks of tender white fish.
- 4 ounces meaty salt pork, rind removed and cut into 1/3-inch dice
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 medium onions (14 ounces), cut into 3/4-inch dice
- 6 to 8 sprigs fresh summer savory or thyme, leaves removed and chopped (1 tablespoon)
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 2 pounds Baby Reds
- 5 cups chicken stock
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 pounds fresh bluegill. Always best if caught ice fishing that morning.
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (or up to 2 cups if desired)
- If you want to garnish the chowder use 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives.
- Heat a 4 to 6 quart heavy pot over low heat and add the diced salt pork. Once it has rendered a few tablespoons of fat, increase the heat to medium and cook until the pork is a crisp golden brown. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cracklings to a small ovenproof dish, leaving the fat in the pot, and reserve until later.
- Add the butter, onions, savory or thyme, and bay leaves to the pot and sautee, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 8 minutes, until the onions and softened but not browned.
- Add the potatoes and stock. If the stock doesn’t cover the potatoes, add just enough water to cover them. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil, cover, and cook the potatoes vigorously for about 10 minutes, until they are soft on the outside but still firm in the center.
- If the stock hasn’t thickened lightly, smash a few of the potato slices against the side of the pot and cook for a minute or two longer to release their starch. Reduce the heat to low and season heavily with salt and pepper (you want to almost overseason the chowder at this point to avoid having to stir it much once the fish is added).
- Add the fish fillets and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, then remove the pot from the heat and allow the chowder to sit for 10 minutes (the fish will finish cooking during this time).
- Gently stir in the cream and taste for salt and pepper. If you are not serving the chowder within the hour, let it cool a bit, then refrigerate; cover the chowder after it has chilled completely. Otherwise, let it sit for up to an hour at room temperature, allowing the flavors to meld.
- When ready to serve, reheat the chowder over low heat; DON’T let it boil. Warm the cracklings in a low oven (200 degrees) for a few minutes.
- Use a slotted spoon to mound the chunks of fish, the onions, and potatoes in the center of large soup plates or shallow bowls, and ladle the creamy broth around. Scatter the cracklings over the individual servings and finish each with a sprinkling of chopped parsley and minced chives.