This August, I made a “pilgrimage” to Los Angeles to visit various relatives and to see Paul McCartney in concert at Dodger stadium. I flew from Seattle and my younger sister flew from the East Coast; as soon as we met at the airport we were off – and we proceeded to walk, talk, eat, visit and survive on five hours or less sleep per night.
My other sister Susan reluctantly opted out as she was involved with the Sustainable Seafood Chowder Taste Off, benefitting the Seymour Marine Discovery Center in her home town of Santa Cruz. She sent a note about the event and one recipe in particular – smoked salmon chowder. Susan wrote, “This was an item auctioned off at our online auction. Three board members made chowder (one a professional chef and restaurant owner), other board members provided appetizers, salad, dessert and wines throughout the evening.” As a board member and cook extraordinaire, she was one of the three contestants and cooked batches of smoked salmon chowder totalling 60 servings. I was her consultant … the one who she asked, “how much do I need?” and “Can I make it the day before?” I have become a resource for my family when it comes to feeding a crowd.
I phoned after the contest, which took place in a private coastal California home on the evening of a super moon. She reported that there was a 3-way tie! Anyway, I started to get a hankering for what sounded like a super chowder and she sent on her recipe.
She changed the original Fine Cooking recipe quite a bit and I went even further, swapping out her fennel addition with celery root and frozen roasted corn with fresh corn from my local farmer’s market. Last night, when my daughter and boys arrived from Colorado, we ate my version of the chowder with a giant salad, fresh fruit and seeded crackers. My group gave this chowder high rankings and there was barely a spoonful of it remaining.
So here is my version of her version of the original version. You’ll like this if you enjoy smoked salmon and want a chowder without shellfish.
Smoked Salmon Chowder
(Serves 4 hefty eaters)
- 3 Tbsp. butter
- 1 cup sliced leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced and rinsed well. My leeks were huge and I only needed one.
- ½ cup peeled celery root, diced ¼ inch
- ¼ cup flour
- 2 cup whole milk
- 2 cup mushroom broth (or vegetable broth is you can’t find mushroom)
- Red potatoes peeled and cut into small dice (about 2-1/2 cups): I used two potatoes
- 1 Bay leaf
- ¾ cup fresh corn kernels, cut off the cob
- 8-10 oz. hot-smoked salmon (as opposed to lox), skin off, visible bones removed and flaked into bite-size pieces (about 2 cups)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp. chopped celery leaves to garnish (from the inside of a bunch of celery)
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 10 grinds of white pepper
- 1/8 tsp liquid smoke
Melt the butter in a 4 qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks, corn and celery root and cook, stirring until tender, about six minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring for one minute.
Slowly whisk in the milk and mushroom broth, bring to a simmer. Once it is thickened, add the potatoes and bay leaf, simmer gently until potatoes are tender, about 12 minutes. Remove bay leaf.
Add the salmon, cream, chopped celery leaves, lemon juice, and cook until heated through, about one minute. I actually took it off the heat and just let it sit for five minutes. If you like a thinner chowder, add more mushroom broth or milk. Season with salt and pepper, liquid smoke and taste again.