Last year, my son took up an interest in soup. It was a sudden conversion, as previously, the mere mention of soup would instill a look of panic in my son’s eyes as he shook his head and whispered, “I don’t like it.” Mention to him that he had not yet eaten soup before, ever, in his entire life, and the battle would come to a standstill. In fact, my son would just leave the room at that point, leaving whoever was trying to foist soup upon him (most likely me) alone and slightly bewildered.
But then, for reasons that remain a mystery, my son requested that we make chicken soup. Repeated queries followed, designed to make sure that what he thought was soup was, in fact, actually soup (he was four at the time, so one never knows), and then one day, armed with a chicken and a copy of Joy of Cooking, my husband and son made some chicken soup. And then the doors opened, soup flowing every which way. My son became obsessed with chicken soup. When you asked him what he wanted for dinner, he would yell enthusiastically, “CHICKEN SOUP!” When he got excited about something, he would inexplicably jump up and down and say, “Chicken soup!” If he made his stuffed animals talk to one another, the conversion would go something like this, “Uh, do you like chicken soup?” “Chicken soup!” “Yay! Chicken soup!”
So, yeah. It got a little weird. I don’t know if it was because of the Great Chicken Soup Situation of 2011, but after a few months of hearing about chicken soup all day every day, I sort of started to loathe soup. Much like the well thought out entries on Lake Superior State University’s List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse, and General Uselessness the word soup had entered a place far out of my favor.
Leave it to the cold of winter, however, to give a person a change of heart. Deeply entrenched in the soggy, dark months of the season, it soon became clear that soup was once again going to have to make an appearance on our table. Steaming hot, slowly simmered, and studded with chunks of flaky fish and soft potatoes, this chowder was a welcome return to the world of soup. It no doubt helped that I made this soup with cod, my son’s favorite fish, but after my son’s first few bites, he looked at me and said, mouth full of potato, “Mama, this is delicious.” This is, I suppose, the difference between age four and age five. Where four gives you a loud and manic parade that pops up without warning at every hour of the day, five gives you a mellow nod of recognition, like Farmer Hoggett praising Babe with perfectly toned affirmation.
Cod and Leek Chowder
I am not a big believer in adding copious amounts of cream and butter to all chowders. Most of the time, I think the heaviness of the cream masks the taste of everything else in the soup, muddling what should be an otherwise nice experience. This chowder, while plenty hearty, errs on the side of light when it comes to excessive fat. Don’t stone me, but I don’t even use real bacon when I make it—I use turkey bacon, and it tastes wonderful, smoky, and delicious.
1 piece of bacon, finely chopped (pork or turkey are both fine)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 large celery sticks, peeled of any tough strings and coarsely chopped
1 large leek, green part removed and white part chopped in a ¼-inch dice
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and chopped into ½-inch cubes
2 quarts water
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
2 cups milk
¼ cup heavy cream
1 pound cod fillets, chopped into 1-inch chunks
In a large stock pot or soup pot, sauté the chopped bacon over medium low heat until it is crisp. Remove from pot and reserve to the side. Add the butter to the pot, and allow to melt. Add carrots, celery, leek, and potato to melted butter, and stir to evenly coat all the vegetables. Add the crisped bacon back into the pot and stir to combine. Cover the pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer vegetables for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.
After 20 minutes, add water, bay leaf, and salt and pepper to taste. Increase heat to medium high, bringing the mixture to a boil. Stir the ingredients, reduce heat to low, then cover and simmer for 1 hour, stirring frequently.
After 1 hour, add milk and cream and stir to combine. Add the fish and stir to combine. Over very low heat, making sure the mixture does not come to a boil, cook for an additional 10 minutes, until the fish has been gently cooked through. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper as needed.