Chef Morimoto vs Chef It Yourself

Last week¬†Houston enjoyed a healthy dose of real¬†Winter weather (finally!),¬†on Wednesday¬†I was manning a booth for Dress For Success Houston at my neighborhood Whole Foods, the location¬†was appropriate¬†for food thoughts. There I was trying to figure out what to make for dinner, I knew that¬†The Hubbz would enjoy something warm and comforting as much as I would, so a soup of some sort seemed in order. Something creamy, rich, with fish and Panamanian flavor, that’s what I wanted.¬†CHOWDER!

I quickly started jotting things down, instead of clams, fish. No potatoes, let’s use chayote¬†instead. Skip the cream and go for some coconut milk and some salty, fatty pork was mandatory. So I ended up with El Fish Chowder-o. It was delicious, I used some leftover rice to thicken it up a bit and should’ve¬†ran it through the blender, but I got lazy and hungry. Aside: Hubbz, if I had a handy immersion blender I would’ve never skipped this step…, hint, hint. No matter. I took a whisk and made sure all the rice grains were completely obliterated and it was pretty velvety.

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with Iron Chef Morimoto. Well, let me tell you. I know you will have some doubts about this part of the story, but I’ve never lied to you and never will. On day 2 of El Chowder-o, The Hubbz¬†and I were watching Iron Chef Morimoto¬†battle Chef Mehta, the mystery ingredient: Coconut. Morimoto¬†proceeds to work his magic with coconut in every conceivable variation and then it happened. He started making a clam chowder. He cooked a bit of rice in coconut milk and used it as a thickener for the chowder and added more coconut milk to make the broth. Of course my dish styling wasn’t as gorgeous as his, but I had a Morimoto genius moment!

El Fish Chowder-O

1 lb fish (I used some striped bass and salmon), cubed
Salt pork or bacon, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 culantro leaves or 3 cilantro sprigs
about 6 cps broth
1/2 cp rice, cooked
1 can coconut milk
2 chayotes, peeled & cubed
3 green onions, diced
Salt & black pepper

In medium pot, render the fat from the bacon, add the garlic and cook until soften, add the coconut milk, broth and rice, season with salt and pepper, simmer for about 30 minutes until rice disintegrates. At this point you can run it through the blender to get a smooth broth.

Return to the pot and add the chayote, allowing to cook until fork tender. Once the chayote is cooked, add the fish and 1/2 of the green onions. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes until the fish is cooked and flaky. Add the rest of the green onions and serve with crusty French bread.

Cookingly yours,

New England’s Clams & Salt Cod

Because I was under the weather, I had not had an opportunity to finish posting all the recipes for the 24, 24, 24 event I hosted a bit over 2 weeks ago. It was an ambitious menu, to say the least. Every dish was better than the next, I would really have a tough time picking one as my hands down favorite.

This one came representing the New England region and I must admit I was surprised by the use of salt cod. I couldn’t tell you why exactly, because as I think about it, it makes perfect sense. But it still caught me by surprise. The other thing I liked about it was the way the cod was used. As a native Panamanian I’m used to seeing cod in more ‘creole’ presentations. So this was different a change, and one that I enjoyed thoroughly.

I found the recipe on I prepared it¬†as instructed for the night of the event, but we had some of the cod and bean¬†base leftover and I revisited and tweaked the recipe a few days later. So here’s my final rendition of it.

This is a 2-day dish: on day 1 you’ll soak/rehydrate the cod and beans, on day 2 you can put it all together. Plan ahead. *Also, the recipe called for Manila clams which I didn’t find and substituted with Little Necks.

1/2 lb salt cod
2 cps dried white beans (such as Great Northern or cannellini beans)
2 cloves garlic, whole
1 tbsp kosher salt
4 cps whole milk
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1/3 cp bacon or salt pork, chopped
2 tsp garlic, minced (about 2 cloves)
1/2 cp carrot, diced (about 1 large carrot)
1 1/2 cps leeks, chopped
1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 lb Manila clams, scrubbed*
1 1/2 cps dry white wine
1/2 tsp lemon zest, grated
3 tbsp Italian parsley, finely chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

The day before, rinse the  salt cod under cool water, then place it in a large glass or plastic mixing bowl with enough cold water to cover and soak overnight in the refrigerator, changing the water 2 or 3 times. Put beans in another bowl, sort and rinse them, then cover them with cold water, and let soak for 24 hours in the refrigerator.

The next day, drain and rinse beans. Transfer them to a medium saucepan and add the whole garlic cloves and fresh cold water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook gently, being mindful not to boil them. It will take about 40 minutes for them to be cooked through. Once the beans have softened, season them with sea salt & pepper. Remove the garlic cloves and strain the beans but reserve about 1-2 cps of the cooking liquid.

To prep the cod: drain the water it’s been soaking in and transfer to a saucepan. Add milk, peppercorns, and bay leaves and simmer over medium-low heat until fish is soft and flaky, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, strain fish from the pan, and place in a bowl. Use a fork to flake cod into bite-size pieces. Discard milk and seasonings.

Rinse the saucepan and heat it over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook just long enough to render¬†some of its fat, you don’t want to brown it. Then add the garlic, carrots, leeks, and thyme and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Deglaze the pan with some of the wine, making sure to release all the drippings stuck at the bottom. Add the rest of the wine, cod, veggies and beans and allow it come to a slow boil. Add clams and wine, stir, and cover. Cook just until clams open, about 7 to 10 minutes. (Discard any clams that do not open.)

After all the clams have opened, add the  lemon zest and parsley and stir; add some of the bean-cooking liquid if the stew seems too thick. Ladle stew into small bowls, drizzle with olive oil, and serve with crusty bread.