While it’s true that Lady Luck has not been on my side lately, I must admit to one bit of serendipity the past two weeks. Strangely, it came in the form of chowder.
Maybe I’m clairvoyant, or maybe I’m like Old Farmer Brown whose bunions start pulsating the day before a heavy storm…I don’t know. Whatever the reason, the day before I whacked my skull into a bookcase, I had the sudden craving for a hearty bowl of chowder. The kind of chowder that’s chock full of goodies like vegetables and chunks of tender meat and comforting starchy stuff; the kind of chowder that’s the perfect antidote to a blustery day or a dark winter night. The kind of chowder that begs for a deep bowl and a sturdy hunk of bread.
Normally, when I need a chowder fix, I turn to this clam chowder, which is lovely and has seen me through many rough winters, but this time, I wanted something a little different. I wasn’t feeling very “seafoody,” if that makes any sense. Problem was, I knew I wasn’t in the mood for seafood but I didn’t know much else. I had no idea what I really wanted, other than something in chowder form.
When I’m indecisive like that, I reach into my shamefully large collection of cookbooks and poke around until something strikes my fancy. Sometimes this takes hours, because I get distracted by glossy pictures and cocktail recipes and then I look up and BAM! it’s dinnertime and I have nothing to show for it. Luckily, this time I was too obsessed by the thought of chowder to dilly-dally around.*
I came upon this recipe, clipped from a very old (as in 2003 old) issue of Cooking Light magazine. Sometimes it pays to be a pack rat, right? I must have made it sometime in the past, because I’d written the notation: Yummy but needs a little “zing.” Hmph. Not really a very helpful notation there, was it, past self? What the Hell is “zing?” In the end, I decided that “zing” is vague-speak for more flavor and made a mental note to be more specific in the future when I scribble notes on a recipe.
Anyways. I scanned the recipe and it looked promising. The only thing that gave me pause was the serving size–the recipe serves 8 to 10 people. We are a family of 4 and only 2 out of those 4 people would even touch this chowder, since the girls don’t like soup and certainly don’t like soup with chunks of things floating in it.
This meant: hella lotta leftovers. Did I really want to be eating away on that huge vat-o-chowda for days upon end? And that’s what I’d have to do, because this chowder contains dairy, so I couldn’t freeze the leftovers for later consumption.
In the end, I decided to go for it, figuring that if I got sick of the stuff, I could tote some off to the neighbors (the ones who aren’t gluten-free or dairy-free or vegetarian. Wait, this is Boulder County. Do we even have neighbors like that? Oh well).
Since I wasn’t sure what kind of “zing” I needed to add, I started out making the recipe pretty much as written, although I increased the amount of of garlic and pepper called for and added fresh herbs instead of dried. I decided to throw in a bay leaf for good measure, and some chile flakes, because a little caliente never hurt anybody.
The chowder bubbled away and I took Mozzy out on a
futile attempt to catch rabbits walk and by the time we returned, it was lunch time. I ladled myself a bowl and dug in greedily, burning my mouth as I always do because I’m a glutton and I never learn. It was worth it, though. Subtly flavored, creamy, chicken-studded goodness. I decided to add a few drops of Valentina hot sauce and some fresh parsley to my bowl, but purists might find this unnecessary. This isn’t a chowder that knocks you over the head with flavor; it sneaks up on you and cuddles you like a warm blanket. I was glad I’d made a big pot.
I was even gladder over the next few days, when I was out of commission with first a concussion and then several bruised ribs, courtesy of some stray computer cables/cords in the study. Oh, I was a pathetic creature, moaning on the couch, clutching ice packs and bottles of painkillers, barely able to hobble to the bathroom (to throw up said painkillers). I felt mighty sorry for myself.
My only solace? I had bowls and bowls of chowder to cry into.
My husband and the Minxes survived on takeout, but all I could manage to eat was that chowder. I ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For days. And strangely, I didn’t get sick of it. It was exactly what I wanted to eat and it went down easy and stayed down, which is no small thing. In fact, I ate the entire pot and didn’t share it with even my husband. Go figure–even when I’m a useless, wailing invalid, my greed reigns supreme. Thank goodness he’s a forgiving man.
Don’t save this chowder for a run of bad luck and misery. Make it now, and share it with fellow chowder-lovers. Or don’t share it. I won’t tell anybody.
Roasted Chicken and Wild Rice Chowder
adapted slightly from Cooking Light magazine
1 (6-oz.) box long-grain and wild rice mix (such as Uncle Ben’s)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped shallot or onion
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup diced carrot
4 garlic cloves, chopped
8 ounces mushrooms, quartered
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon dried herbs de Provence (if you don’t have this, you can leave it out)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 bay leaf
2 cups water
2-3 tablespoons dry sherry (I liked a more pronounced sherry flavor but start with 2 tablespoons and adjust to your taste)
2 (15-oz.) cans reduced sodium chicken broth
1 (12-oz) can evaporated milk (the recipe calls for fat-free but the regular kind is so much better)
3 cups skinless roasted rotisserie chicken, shredded
dash of hot sauce (optional)
chopped fresh parsley (optional)
Prepare wild rice according to package directions; set aside.
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the shallot, celery, carrot and mushrooms and saute until the shallot is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour, herbs de Provence, tarragon, thyme, pepper, chile flakes and bay leaf. Cook a minute or two, stirring frequently. Add water, sherry, chicken broth and evaporated milk and stir well. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer for about 20 minutes or until slightly thickened. Remove bay leaf with a slotted spoon.
Stir in the cooked rice mixture and the chicken. Cook another 10 minutes or until thoroughly heated through. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust accordingly.
**Where did the term “dilly dally” come from, anyways? And who uses it anymore? Clearly, I’m about 80 years old.