December 24, 2012
Our traditional Christmas Eve menu includes an odd number of fish dishes. I grew up in Rhode Island where there are a lot of Italians and their traditions are well known to all of us including The Feast of the Seven Fishes. Tonight, we will have three fish dishes, as there will only be three of us feasting. One is not enough and we need an odd number so three it is.
I am a big fan of seafood in general. One of my favorite childhood memories was going to the Rocky Point Shore Dinner Hall in Warwick Neck every summer. It was a large room, much like an airplane hangar, with rows of thirty tables and seating for forty people at each table. Two thousand five hundred diners at full capacity.
Jalousie windows opened onto views of the Narragansett Bay. The highlights of the menu for my family were clam cakes, steamed clams, and clam chowder. A real Rhode Island Clamarama!
The Shore Dinner Hall served its last “shore dinner” in 2000 but lives on in the memories of most of us who grew up in the smallest state in the union.
I found a recipe for the classic Rhode Island Clam Chowder printed in the Providence Journal back in 1997:
ROCKY POINT-STYLE CHOWDER
1/2 pound ground or finely diced salt pork
1 pound onions, cut in medium dice
1 gallon clam juice
1 pound potatoes, diced
Salt, pepper to taste
1 tablespoon paprika
2 cups canned tomato puree
1 1/2 quarts chopped quahogs
Water as needed
Pilot crackers, crumbled
Heat salt pork until the fat melts. Add onions; cook over gentle heat until very soft. Add clam juice, potatoes, seasonings, tomato puree and a little water.
Simmer until potatoes are soft, then add quahogs. Heat and taste for seasoning. Add water if needed.
It is best to use old, not new potatoes, because they thicken the chowder somewhat with their starch. Crush some pilot crackers and stir them into the chowder to thicken it further near the end of cooking. Makes 20 eight-ounce servings.
After I had grown up and left Rhode Island, my palate expanded and I now find this chowder a little too thin. Besides, Nabisco no longer makes Pilot crackers.
This is my recipe for chowder:
CHRISTMAS EVE CHOWDER
4 cups of fish stock (if I’ve had lobsters recently I save the shells and simmer them with onions, celery and parsley to make my own stock otherwise I like Kitchen Select seafood stock)
One pint of heavy cream
1/2 stick of butter
A variety of seafood but always include some lobster meat then add scallops, shrimp, cod, haddock, clams, mussels, etc.
One Bermuda onion, diced
2 large Idaho potatoes, diced
4 slices of bacon, cooked
Sauté the onion in the 1/2 stick of butter until translucent.
Meanwhile if you are using a fish such as haddock or cod, bake in the oven sprinkled with Old Bay Seasoning until just cooked.
When the onion is translucent, add the potatoes to your soup pot and stir to coat with the butter. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour in the seafood stock and simmer until potatoes are cooked.
Meanwhile cut up the fish -it should just fall apart into chunks.
Add your seafood to the pot when the potatoes are cooked, simmer for two to four minutes until seafood is cooked then add the cream. Heat until warm. Add the bacon and plenty of pepper.
Enjoy everyone! Happy holidays!