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Friday, April 30, 2010

Mahi Mahi Corn Chowder and Popovers

I know that most people are probably sick of these unseasonably cold storms and ready for the sun to start shining, but to tell you the truth, I sort of like them.  They've inspired me lately to experiment with cozy soup recipes, and now....well, I'm a little obsessed.

Not to say I don't love the warm weather. Actually, I revel in it. But I've JUST gotten into all the variations and limitless possibilities that come with making soups- just in time for the Sacramento heat to start stretching it's scalding fingers across the valley and force us to flee indoors to the safety of our AC or into the American River where we'll spend all day floating with sixers of Simpler Times.....

Ok, ok.  I AM ready for summer.  But I'm NOT ready for my soup obsession to stop!

I just had to come to terms that I'll have to experiment with cold soups- something I'm not a huge fan of (though I do love me some good gazpacho).  It's just not the same.  I guess I could concede to the fact that warm weather does not mean the death of warm soups- I mean, in Peru, even in the dead of summer, soup is always always ALWAYS the first course (and man, do they make some good soups).  Maybe I just need to wrap my head around that philosophy.  Maybe I should try always having a soup on hand like that for a starter, and see if that practice can survive a Sacramento summer.  Maybe....

Or maybe I can resign to putting the stockpot back on the shelf until the leaves start falling and the wind starts blowing.  Maybe I can supress my soup craving with an abundance of summer smoothies and fresh salads and heralicious pasta sauces.

But maybe not.  We'll see.

For now, until I lose that lovin' soup feeling, I'll continue to experiment.  I've been wanting to make a corn chowder for a while, and when I came across a recipe in Good Eats for a talapia corn chowder, I almost died, thinking "I WANT NOW."  No talapia in the fridge, but I did have mahi mahi, which I thought would be an easy substitute.  However, the recipe reviews were not great.  Many complained that the chowder was too thin, and for me, this was a dealbreaker.  I do not do thin chowders.  For me, a good chowder is thick and creamy and chunky.  It's got to really warm your soul.  Thin, runny chowders are unacceptable.

So I did some scouting, looking up other corn chowder recipes, until I came to the Barefoot Contessa's recipe where she uses turmeric, and I thought, "Yes. Mama like."  (Sidenote- although she uses a lot more fat than I usually like, I ADORE Ina Garten's recipes, and can usually alter them just enough so I don't feel too guilty about make them.) So using a combination of suggestions from Ina and Good Eats, plus a little divine culinary inspiration, I came up with this recipe. And I love it I love it I love it. I was a little scared that the mahi would make it too fishy, but it didn't turn out that way at all.  In fact, I LOVED the addition of fish, and I honestly don't know how I could ever go back to just plain corn chowder.  It was a combination that made me excited, yet a little apprehensive, but turned out to be absolute perfection.

 I used russet potatoes only because we had tons leftover from Ty's birthday, but I think baby reds would be slightly less starchy and add some accent color.  You'll notice that my measurements for this recipe aren't really exact- partly because I like the fact that you can tweak it to your own tastes, but mostly because I just sort of threw things in a pot and added by taste.  When I went back in my head to try and actually remember everything I did, it took a while.  Some suggestions- depending on how thick or thin you like your chowders, add or subtract the amount of stock.  I actually used a little less than two boxes, because I like the chunky ingredients to really clutter up the soup.  Increasing the amount of potatoes will help as well- as they cook down, the starches will act as thickeners.  You can add more dairy if you like it creamier, like a traditional New England clam chowder (I didn't go that far), or you can add more lemon juice if you'd like a more acidic bite.  As always, play around with the measurements! There is some room for error here, but I wouldn't sweat it- you can always add more of something to balance it out.

Oh, the beauty of soups!

Mahi Mahi Corn Chowder

3-4 Tbsp olive oil
5 strips of bacon, chopped
2 1/2 c chopped mirepoix  (celery, onion, carrot)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste (I like a lot of pepper!)
3 Tbsp flour
a couple glugs of a good IPA beer
2 32 oz boxes of chicken or veggie stock
4 c chopped potatoes
3/4 - 1 c half and half or whole milk (or a mix!)
mahi mahi filets, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 12 oz cans of corn
3-5 Tbsp lemon juice 3 scallions, chopped, for garnish

In a large stockpot cook chopped bacon and olive oil on med-high heat until bacon is crispy.  Remove bacon bits with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add mirepoix and butter to rendered fat.  Reduce heat to medium, stirring occasionally until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and all spices to mixture and give it a good stir, allowing those flavors to meld for 3-4 more minutes.  Add flour and reduce heat to med-low, incorporating for about 1 or 2 minutes.  Add beer, and cook for another 1-2 minutes.  Add potatoes and stock, bring to a boil, then reduce for a simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes or so.

When the potatoes are softened, add corn, reserved bacon, half and half, and mahi mahi pieces, continuing to simmer.  The fish should cook fairly quickly, within 4-5 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.  Serve, topped with a garnish of chopped scallions and a popover on the side.

adapted from Ina Garten

1 1/2 c milk, room temp
3 large eggs, room temp
1 1/2 c flour
3/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted, but not hot, plus more for greasing the pans

*I made this recipe with muffin tins- if you have popover pans, you may have to adjust the cooking time slightly.  Also, if you forget to take the eggs out of the fridge until the last minute (like I did), warm them to room temp by placing them in a warm water bath for a few minutes.  Works like a charm.

Makes about 18 popovers.

Preheat oven to 425.

Grease muffin tins liberally with butter. Really get it in there.  Set aside until oven reaches temp.

Whisk together eggs, flour, salt, milk and butter.  No need to incorporate in any particular order. The batter will be very thin, and that's ok!

Pop the greased-up pans into the oven for exactly 2 minutes.  Remove heated pans and fill muffin tins halfway with batter.

Return to oven and bake for 27 min.  In this time you should try to do everything in your power to NOT open the oven door.  If you're anything like me, this will be very, very difficult...I'm a notorious peeker.  This is especially hard to do on your first popover batch, when you don't really know how your finicky oven will treat these delicate little puffs of goodness.  So you may have to play with the bake time, depending on your appliance. Ina's original recipe called for 30 minutes, which was too long for mine, and I ended up with popovers darker and crispier than I would have liked.  They should puff up above the tin, and be slightly crispy on the outside and full of...well, nothing on the inside (except delicate, eggy, buttery air).

These were delicious with a little extra butter (BAD ASHLEY, BAD), then dipped in the soup. I think I may have a new popover obsession....and they're so EASY.  Easy to make, easy to eat.  Since they consist mostly of air, it's reeeally easy to eat 3 or 4.....or 5 of them.  I plan to play around with different variations, so I'll keep you updated.  Enjoy!


  1. I think maybe the solution to summer soup is not cold soups, but spicy soups. I think (and perhaps Jessica will correct me if I'm wrong) according to Ayurvedic practice, spiciness is actually a way to cool yourself when it's hot out. If you think about it, most of India (and Thailand, and Vietnam, and pretty much anywhere in South Asia) is tropical, and their food is pretty spicy and warm. So, maybe they know something we don't?

  2. I've heard of this, and I think you're right...and I DO love spicy foods....but the very last place I want to be in 100 degree heat is making soup over a hot stove. I guess there lies the problem. Maybe some day when I have air conditioning I might be more motivated...but until then, I will resolve to use the stove and oven as little as possible during the summer months. (Unless is snows in June again.)