Soup season is here! Now that temperatures have plunged to a more seasonable mid-20’s, a steaming bowl of chowder would hit the spot. As a New Englander, I love all kinds of chowder. The other day I was looking through pictures from a recent trip to Maine and they got me thinking about (and craving) a really good clam chowder we ate at Peter Ott’s restaurant on the waterfront in Camden. They do chowder really well there. Not overly heavy or rich, but full of warmth and flavor, and super fresh clams of course.
But for my first chowder of the season, I decided on lobster. Lobster happened to be on sale, and the store steamed it perfectly for me so I didn’t have to bother. Not that I have a problem steaming live lobsters – I really don’t. But I will admit to wasting no time slamming a cover on that pot and walking away quickly so I don’t have to hear them banging on the lid in their efforts to escape.
In my small town, my preferred lobster vendor can be found hovering over a tank at the back of a tiny, somewhat decrepit, convenience/liquor store. He gets his lobsters fresh from the Maine coast a couple of times a week and proudly claims, “if it’s not from Maine, it’s not a true lobster.” Said like a true Mainiac.
This chowder is chock full of veggies and lobster and is spiked with cognac and cayenne. It’s silky and rich, but not too heavy, and it will warm you to the bone. A nice, crisp IPA is a good foil for this chowdah – I especially like Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Sip of Sunshine. And skip the oyster crackers, a hunk of good local farm bread will be better for sopping up any last drops.
• 4 sliced bacon, chopped
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 2 cups onion, chopped
• 2 tablespoons Cognac
• 2 cups celery, chopped
• 2 cups carrot, chopped
• 2 cups corn kernels, cut from 3 ears of sweet corn
• 2 waxy potatoes, scrubbed and chopped
• 6 cups fish stock or clam juice
• Bay leaf
• Bouquet of fresh thyme
• 2 cups broccoli, chopped
• 1½ cups half and half (or heavy cream..)
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Juice of ½ lemon
• ½ teaspoon cayenne (or more if you like it hot!)
• ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
• 1 medium lobster, steamed with meat removed and chopped
1 In a large dutch oven over high heat, sauté the bacon until it’s crisp, then remove it to a plate with a slotted spoon and reserve.
2 Drain all but a tablespoon of the bacon fat from the pan. Add the butter and oil and sauté the onion until translucent. Add the Cognac and simmer for about a minute. Add the celery, carrot and corn, and continue sautéing until veggies are soft. Add the potatoes and sauté for a couple of minutes more.
3 Add the stock, bay leaf and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add the broccoli. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until potatoes and broccoli are tender. Whisk in the half and half (or cream) and season to taste with salt and pepper.
4 (At this point, if the broth needs a little thickening, mash together 2 tablespoons of softened butter with 2 tablespoons of flour until it forms a thick paste. Gradually add bits of the paste to the soup, whisking until the soup is thickened.)
5 Off the heat whisk in lemon juice, cayenne and paprika, and gently fold in the reserved bacon and chopped lobster.