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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Salmon Chowder in a Flash

I can't tell you how long I've had this little can of salmon sitting in my pantry. Every time I opened the door, it would stare out at me forlornly. "Choose me. Cook me," it always seemed to say. But, alas, I would grab something else and tell that poor little can that maybe next time would be its chance.

It's not as if I've never used a can of salmon before; I have. But not often and not with great success. To be honest, I think it was a result of the age old quandary: I have it but what do I do with it? I had never received that canned salmon epiphany... until five days ago. Can't tell you where it came from, how, or why. After all these times opening and closing that pantry door, this time... this time, it came. Chowder. I would prepare a super fast and easy salmon chowder. It was fast (less than 30 minutes) and it was absolutely delicious. I might have to go buy another can now!

It starts with a 7 1/2 ounce can of salmon. To round out the flavor, I used celery and shallots, but you could substitute onions for the shallots if you wish. I cut the vegetables into pretty small pieces. I wanted them to cook quickly and I didn't want big pieces to overwhelm the salmon flavor.

I turned a pan on medium-high heat and melted a tablespoon of butter. Once things were warmed up, I added the vegetables and let them sweat it out for a few minutes. I'm guessing it was about five minutes, about the time it took me to prepare the salmon and the remaining ingredients. Oh, yeah, and I added a bit of fresh ground black pepper. Normally I would add some salt at this stage, but between the butter, the salmon, and the broth it can get pretty salty. It's best to wait until the end and add salt to taste, if necessary.

Most canned salmon consists of a salmon steak (cross-wise cuts through the fish). This means that there is part of the spine running through the can. They also can it with the skin on. I pull the meat out of the can and remove the backbone and skin. You can ignore the bones, though. Through the canning process they have become softened enough to eat... in fact, this is why canned salmon is a pretty decent source of calcium. Once the vegetables are softened, add the salmon and any juice in the can into the pot. Stir around for a minute and then add the water and half of a bouillon cube. Bring to a simmer and cook with a bay leaf for 5-10 minutes.

The last step is to add the milk slurry. You do not have to thicken this soup at all, or you could thicken it a lot more. As presented here, it will not be super thick, but it will have some body. Adjust as you see fit. Mix the corn starch and milk together before the milk is heated. Pour into the pan and heat until it comes to a simmer. Cook for about a minute and remove from the heat. If desired, you can add a splash of heavy (or light) cream to give a little bit of that rich mouth feel. Lastly, add a small pinch (I used about a teaspoon) of fresh minced parsley. If you only have dried, it's not a big deal.

Salmon Chowder in a Flash
Yield: 2-3 servings, about 1 quart

1 TBS butter
1/4 cup celery, diced small
1/4 cup shallot, diced small (onion's OK, too)
dash fresh ground pepper
7 1/2 oz can salmon with juice
2 cups water
1 bay leaf
1/2 cube Knorr vegetable bouillon (or similar)
1 cup milk (preferably whole)
2 TBS corn starch
splash heavy or light cream (optional)
1 tsp fresh or dried parsley

Melt butter in a 2 quart sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add the celery and shallot and cook, stirring occasionally until softened and lightly browned. Somewhere along the way, add a dash of fresh pepper. Meanwhile, open the salmon, save the juice, and pull it into small pieces, removing the skin and backbone. You can leave all the other, smaller bones alone.

When the vegetables are ready, add the salmon and juice to the pan along with the water, bouillon, and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Mix the milk and cornstarch together to form a slurry. Add to the soup, stirring constantly. Bring back up to a simmer and cook about 1 minute, until the mixture has thickened slightly. Test for salt and adjust as necessary. Add a splash of cream, if desired. Lastly, stir in the parsley and serve.

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