Christmas Eve + a Pot of Fish Chowder

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I’ve just returned to DC after a few wonderful days in Richmond at my parent’s house for Christmas.  It is the first year having Christmas at my childhood home – we usually celebrate in Baltimore but my grandmother recently moved into a smaller home and couldn’t host us all this year.  So, my mom volunteered to host and my aunt, two cousins, grandmother and her dog, Miss Marple, were able to come down from Baltimore/NYC and spend Christmas with us in Richmond.

On Christmas Eve we traditionally have gone to a church service at my grandmother’s church and then come home to hors d’oeuvres, beef tenderloin, and a host of other dishes.  However, over the past couple of years we have started having soup and a salad instead.  This was mostly to cut down on the enormous amount of energy that my grandmother typically put into the meal, but didn’t hurt the waistline either so we decided to stick with it.

This year’s soup was a fish chowder that my mom created.  I was initially wary of a seafood chowder since the only fish soups I’ve ever had were made by Campbell’s, but this soup opened my eyes to the potential of chowders.  Full of fresh halibut, waxy yukon potatoes and other seasonal vegetables, it had a rich, creamy flavor with a depth and warmth that lent itself to the coziness of Christmas Eve.  We ate it crowded around our dining room table (and I truly mean crowded – quite a few of us were straddling table legs trying to fit 7 at a table made to comfortably seat 4) with my mom’s Christmas flower arrangements in the center.

In addition to the soup, we served a salad of mixed greens, goat cheese, grapes, toasted pistachios and a lemon vinaigrette.  It was refreshing and balanced the heaviness of the soup.  We used my mom’s special lemon olive oil and it really made the dish.  I would recommend purchasing some if you can find it, as it adds a less acidic lemon flavor to dressings and is a great base for sauteing vegetables or proteins.

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Fish Chowder (adapted from Simply Recipes)

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 2 medium yellow onions, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (optional)
  • 3 large Yukon Gold potatoes (about 1 1/4 pounds), peeled, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 2 cups clam juice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 Tbsp fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay (optional, can use a little paprika and a dash of cayenne)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs halibut or other white fish, bones removed and filleted
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 slices bacon, cooked and chopped

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Heat oil and butter in the bottom of a large pot (6-qt) on medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the wine, if using, and turn up the heat, cook, uncovered until the wine reduces by half. (If not using wine, add 1/4 cup of water with the clam juice.)

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Add the potatoes, clam juice, bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper, and Old Bay spice. (The potatoes should be just barely covered with the liquid in the pot. If not, add water so that they are.) Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat to medium and cook, covered, until the potatoes are almost done, about 10-15 minutes.

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Add the fish to the pot of potatoes. Return to the stove. Cook on low heat, uncovered, until the fish is just cooked through, about 10 minutes. When the fish is just cooked through, slowly add cream and stir to heat (watch the heat and make sure not to boil).  Once heated through, remove from heat. The flavors will improve if the soup rests 30 minutes before serving.

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Top each bowl with a dash of parsley and chopped bacon, and consume!

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Grape, Goat Cheese and Pistachio Salad

For Salad (use the following in whatever amounts you would like):

  • Red Grapes, sliced
  • Goat Cheese, crumbled
  • Pistachios, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • Mixed Greens
  • salt and pepper to taste

For Lemon Vinaigrette:

  • 1/4 Cup Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 2 tsp Dijon Mustard
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1/2 cup lemon olive oil (or olive oil and lemon zest)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine all vinaigrette ingredients in a bowl or dressing container and mix.  Top greens with all ingredients, add desired amount of vinaigrette and toss.

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