Unfortunately, the site won't let me publish the diary under Translator's name, it's too old, it says. sigh. sorry it's late.--blueoregon
20130121- Doc submitted this diary as an emergency diary in case we ever needed it. i included the note he wrote with it without the phone number. It's my great regret he won't include those pictures now.
I received the sad news of Doc's tragic departure Monday evening when blueoregon sent me a message and suggested we post this diary today in tribute to our regular WFD contributor. I would ask that we leave any politics or grumping at the door as this should be a place for remembering one of our own the way WFD does best: with food & drink & merriness! So pull up a chair and share a memory, a recipe or just a hug amongst friends. Doc, we lift our glasses to you and toast to all the wonderful posts you shared here with your Kos family! Agape!
The diary from Monday 20130121 regarding Doc's passing:Dave Smith Translator Has PassedHi! Here is a new emergency diary in case that you need it. It is sort of an odd topic, but that is nothing new for me! I would ask two things: first, if I cook this and take some pictures, please release it back to me so that I can add them. Second, if and when you post it, call me at ---------- so that I will know to be on time. I feel bad about joining so late last night. It was no one's fault, but you know that I am very loyal to my readers. Warmest regards, Doc
At first glance, you might say, "How awful!", but you would be wrong. Although I have developed this particular recipe for catfish, it works well for any fairly bland fish (I would not recommend it for salmon, for example, but it might be good). The beauty of this dish is that you can make a concentrate and freeze it, and whip up one or many bowls of it whenever you want.
This is based on traditional clam chowder, with a couple of twists. It is ideal if you have either really small fish that are too bony to fry, or some really large ones that you have filleted. I prefer the larger ones because you can have some nice sized chunks of meat. Here is how to make it from scratch.
First, you catch the fish (I guess that you could buy it, but not nearly as much fun). This is actually very important, because the quality of the final product depends very much on the handling of the fish before cooking. These general instructions are for any kind of fish.
Keep the fish alive until you can clean them. If that is not possible, at least draw them and put them on ice until you can finish. Dead fish, undrawn, decompose about as fast as you can read this paragraph. Drawing them and putting them on ice will make them keep for a while.
For catfish, you skin them. For most other fish scaling is sufficient. More on that another time. For little ones, after cleaning, put into salted water and simmer just until the meat will come off the bone. That does not take long for fish. Remove the meat from the bones, and then put the bones back in the water and simmer for a couple of hours. For big ones that you have filleted, put the bones in salted water and simmer for a couple of hours. The bones contain much of the flavor and also most of the gelatin that gives the chowder its creamy texture. You can add some seasonings like onion and celery if you wish, but that actually comes later. Putting in some now does not hurt. I like to add a couple of bay leaves, some freshly ground black pepper, and a bruised clove of garlic. Do not overdo the garlic, as it tends to overpower the subtle flavors of the other ingredients.
After the simmer, allow the broth to cool and filter out the bones and any onion and/or celery that you might have added. Then look over the bones and pick off any good meat and add it back to the broth. Obviously, this is beginning to sound like a dish that can be made in stages, like doing this the day before you plan to serve it. However, it can be done in one day.
Now take either good bacon or (and many prefer) some salt pork and cook it until it is nice and crisp but not burnt. Reserve the fat. For salt pork you may have to slice it thinly because I have been to stores that have only the intact pieces. I personally prefer bacon, but that is just my personal taste.
I can not give amounts of ingredients here, because they depend on how much fish that you have and how much chowder that you want. Roughly, use twice as much fish meat as each the celery and onion (before sweating the vegetables) and about twice the amount of broth as fish meat. I know that this is rough, but it really does not matter that much.
Dice however much celery as you need and sweat it in a skillet with some of the reserved fat. I say sweat rather than saute, because sauteing sort of implies browning it, and you do not want to do that. You want to get is transparent as much as celery will get, but if you brown celery you have gone too far. Celery does not have much sugar in it, so it does not caramelize very well. After it is done, drain it of excess fat and add to the stock.
Now dice however many onions as you need and sweat them with fresh grease (you can use the fat from the celery if you strain it). I like sort of largish pieces, but chop it however you like. Just do not pulverize it. You want to cook the onion until it just begins to caramelize (onion has lots of sugar, so it caramelizes well). Just do not burn it! If you blacken it, a horrible, bitter flavor develops and contaminates the entire batch so you will just have to start over again. Once it is ready, drain the excess fat and add to the stock.
Now, you should realize that everything is already pretty much cooked. The fish is almost (in the case of little ones) done, and in the case of the big ones is still raw, but fish cooks FAST, particularly in water. Depending on whether you plan to serve it all immediately or freeze some concentrate for later, the cooking method diverges. Also, if you are making the clam variant of this, you can go ahead and add them now. Clams are a bit tough and do not suffer from longer cooking than fish.
"But, Doc! What about the potatoes?" Here is the big difference from serving it now as opposed to freezing concentrate. Let us take the case first where you want to serve it all immediately (remember, chowder, like many other complex mixtures of flavors usually improves if left in the refrigerator overnight, so keep that in mind). If you are going to serve it immediately after cooking, then dice however many potatoes that you want (I like about as many potatoes as fish) and add them the the broth and bring it to a very low boil. Whilst it is heating, cut up the fillets to nice chunks and add them, or take the meat from the little fish and add it. Taste for seasoning, remembering that it has only about two thirds of the liquid in it that it will eventually have.
When the potatoes are no longer bony, gently stir in whole milk (if you really want to be extravagant, use half and half) and bring it back JUST TO THE SIMMER. If you bring it to the boil, the milk will curdle. It still tastes OK, but has a strange texture. I like my chowder on the thin side, so if it is not thick enough for you you can add some cornstarch dispersed in water to thicken it. Immediately put in in serving bowls, piping hot, and sprinkle a little of the bacon bits or salt pork bits on top for flavor and as a garnish. You can add some chopped green onion or parsley if you like, just for looks.
If you plan to serve it the next day, add the potatoes and fish to the hot broth, but turn off the stove and allow it to cool. Put in glass or plastic and refrigerate until time to serve. Then bring to a low boil until the potatoes are no longer bony, add the milk or half and half, and proceed as above.
For the concentrate, just bring the broth and vegetables to the boil to sterilize it, then cool and freeze. Now, do not get greedy and eat all of the fish, because you will add that after you thaw the broth! By the way, fish freezes extremely well if frozen in ice. You can either just put the fish in bags and top them off with water, or you can freeze the fish, dip in it ice water, freeze again, dip again, and repeat the process until you have around a quarter of an inch of ice on them, then bag them. That is a lot of trouble, but it thaws faster than a solid block of ice.
Note that neither the potatoes, fish, or milk are in the frozen concentrate. None of these freeze well, milk at all and cooked fish and potatoes go mushy. So to serve, thaw the concentrate and the fish, dice the potatoes and fish however large you like them, and then add and cook until the potatoes are no longer bony. Then add the milk or half and half and proceed exactly as above. If you have used clams, they can stay in the concentrate because they are not as bad about getting mushy.
Well, there you have it. Before I leave the subjects, a few don'ts and why this works. First of all, do not even try this unless you have whole fish. The bones are what make the recipe work (clams, not really fish, being an exception). The bones are where the flavor is, and if you try this just using the meat, it will turn out poorly.
Second, do not attempt unless you are using extremely fresh fish. Note that this recipe has no significant source of acid, our friend when dealing with fish that is less than pristine. (You knew that I would get Geeky, did not you?) When fish begin to age, even though they are perfectly healthful, they produce amines, organic chemistry cousins of ammonia, and those amines have the well known "fishy" smell. Oddly, really fresh fish do not smell "fishy"! It turns out that these amines are quite volatile, and our nasal bulb is extremely sensitive to them, and they just smell bad! Acid, whether vinegar or lemon juice, reacts with those amines to form nonvolatile ammonium salts, which, since they are not volatile, are not smelt. As a matter of fact, they can actually be flavor enhancers like MSG. By the way, if you like MSG (I do), you can add a little to the broth as it simmers.
In general, try to avoid freezing anything with potatoes in it. Except for commercially prepared frozen French fries (which are highly processed), potatoes almost always go mushy when frozen. It is always better to add fresh ones to any kind of soup rather than to freeze it with the potatoes in it. Since diced potatoes take very little time to cook, it adds only a few minutes to any dish to add them just before serving.
Well, that is it for now. I am pretty confident that this recipe will work with any whole fish and clams (I do not know about mussels or abalone) and even shrimp or crab (use the exoskeleton just like the fish bones, removing the meat to avoid overcooking it). I have not tried it, but my built in taste computer indicates that oysters would be horrible in this recipe. Oysters are extremely delicate critters, and in my opinion are overcooked when observed under candlelight, although I have cooked a couple of dishes with them that were good, but once an oyster is overcooked (boiling them is right out) they are, and Eldest Son used to say when he was little, "runned".