Sunday, January 9, 2011

Freezer Fish Chowders

Far away from the seashore or in the middle of a snowy winter that frosts over the sea and brings fisherman to shore, it’s nice to know that a warming seafood meal can be created quickly with pure ingredients from you freezer and pantry. The first recipe for fish chowder is made with any firm fish like cod, flounder or orange roughy.  The second is a recipe for shellfish bisque that you can make with frozen shrimp.  Neither of these takes as long as meat based stocks and soups so they are viable weeknight meals. 

Make the bisque if you usually have frozen shrimp, V-8 or tomato juice and canned clam juice on hand.  (Brandy and water can stand in for clam juice in a pinch) If you keep potatoes, frozen fish, potatoes and chicken or clam juice in the house, you can make the chowder. 

Frozen Fish Chowder
Serves 4

4 six-ounce frozen fish steaks or filets (cod, orange roughy, flounder, even salmon)
1 large onion
4 medium sized potatoes
1-2 celery stalks
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon flour
14 ounces clam juice, chicken broth or water or a combination. 
6 ounces milk
1 cup frozen corn or other frozen vegetable (spinach is good)
1/4 cup heavy cream

  1. Thaw fish while you are preparing the chowder base.  Lay filets or steaks out side by side.  If wrapped in plastic, fish may be placed in a shallow bath of tepid water to thaw quickly.  
  2. Peel and slice onion no wider than 1/4 inch thick.  Peal and thinly slice or dice potatoes. Finely chop celery.  
  3. Heat olive oil in a 3-quart heavy bottomed pot over a medium heat and lightly sauté onion.  When onions begin to sweat (sending off a bit of steam) add the potatoes and celery.  Stir to coat potatoes and celery in oil. 
  4. Sprinkle flour over vegetables.  Continue to cook a minute longer, stirring to prevent potatoes from sticking.  
  5. Add juice or broth. If adding water instead, add a little salt at this stage. Scrape up any potato or flour from the bottom of the pan and mix it into the broth. Bring mixture to a boil then reduce heat and cook on low for 15 minutes, until potatoes are quite soft.  
  6. While soup cooks, cut fish into bite-sized pieces.  
  7. Once potatoes are cooked, add milk to soup.  Soup may be partially pureed with an immersion blender at this stage to thicken it.  You can also use a potato masher to break down some of the potatoes and thicken the soup leaving nice chunks.  
  8. If using any frozen vegetables, like corn, add at this stage.  Cream can be added at this stage also.  Cook until soup is very hot and frozen vegetables are heated through, about two-three minutes longer on medium-low heat.  
  9. Lower heat and stir in fish.  Cover and let fish cook gently in hot soup, about 4-5 minutes depending on size of fish pieces.  Serve soup hot garnished with fresh parsley or dried chives. 
This soup reheats well on a low flame.  If storing for more than one day, freeze in individual servings. 

Frozen Shrimp Bisque
Serves 3

The key to a bisque is to “cook” the shells before placing them in the stock water. This imparts a deeper crustacean flavor.  It is reported that this is how bisque got its name, not as is often thought, from the Bay of Biscay.  (In French, “bis cuites” refers to twice-cooked, like a biscuit or biscotti.) This is a smooth, creamy soup but it does not always require cream for its smooth and silky consistency. Here I use cooked, pureed rice and some cornstarch to thicken the broth. Though we think of bisques as elegant and expensive soups, if you are using only the shells, as older recipes direct, you are making the most of your food supplies to make an inexpensive meal.  Cooks stretched their food budgets by getting every bit of flavor from all parts of their seafood then garnishing with a bit of seafood rather than stocking the pot full of expensive shellfish.  In fact, the shells were often crushed to extract as much flavor as possible from them before straining.  This recipe also works really well with leftover lobster shells, crab and crayfish. 

2 cups shrimp shells plus 1/3 pound shelled thawed shrimp or 1 pound frozen shrimp, peeled and thawed
1 tablespoon olive oil and/or butter
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot , chopped or grated
1 small onion, chopped or grated
5.5 ounce can low sodium V-8 or tomato juice
1-2 cups water
1 cup clam juice or vegetable broth
Salt and black pepper
cooked rice, cornstarch as thickeners
garnishes: heavy cream, hot pepper paste or crushed red pepper, lemon, sherry

Special equipment: cheese cloth or a very fine strainer

Note: Instead of discarding shrimp shells from frozen shrimp, place them in a Ziploc bag and add to them until you have enough for a chowder.  You can also use one pound of frozen shrimp, peeled and thawed for this recipe. 

  1. Heat oil/butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet.  Add shrimp shells and sauté until shells turn pink and begin to brown.  
  2. Add vegetables and sauté a few minutes, until lightly browned.  
  3. Transfer shells and vegetables to a stockpot.  Add juice and enough water to cover shells and vegetables.  If using smaller shells, use your judgment here and add more water or broth.  
  4. Bring stock to a boil them lower heat, cover and simmer 15-20 minutes. 
  5. Line a strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth and strain soup.  
  6. Taste and add seasonings as required.  Add more broth, clam juice or water as needed.  
  7. Thicken soup with either or both of the following methods.  Add 1/2-1 cup cooked rice and puree.  Add 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 2 ounces cold water.  Stir cornstarch slurry into soup and cook on a low simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  
  8. To serve, add raw shrimp or other shellfish to hot soup and heat on low until seafood is cooked through. 

Bonus: Bisque makes a great sauce base for seafood pasta.  In a large skillet combine a cup of bisque with a bit of cream, sherry and a squeeze of lemon.  Then add cooked pasta, cooked shellfish and steamed vegetables like asparagus, broccoli or even peas. Other nice additions are chopped tomato, parsley and/or basil.  Top with grated Parmesan cheese.