I tend to be the sort of cook who carefully follows recipes for things like cakes, sticks fairly close to recipes for cookies or bread and cooks by eye for stews, soups and chowders. I particularly like chowders because we nearly always have extra milk and cream around here. Technically, chowder is a seafood-based soup with milk or cream added. Around here, it’s a milk- or cream-based soup with whatever I happen to have on hand. Chowder, in my experience, is a very forgiving dish. You can tinker with amounts, ingredients and cooking time and still get a good result.
For chowder, you basically need broth, veggies, something starchy, a protein source and cream or milk. The broth can be chicken, beef, fish, clam or vegetable. I like garlic broth but it’s not my husband’s favorite, so I usually make it when he’s not around. Throw a hunk of parmesan rind in with the veggie or garlic broth for extra flavor. Veggies can run the gamut, although in my experience there are some that don’t work too well – beets, rutabagas and turnips come to mind. If you use broccoli, I wouldn’t add anything else except onions or other cole family members such as cabbage or cauliflower. Pasta, rice, barley, noodles or potatoes work for starch. Protein can be chicken, turkey, fish or other seafood, beef, pork or lamb. Here are some successful combinations I’ve tried: beef broth, leftover roast, onions, celery, carrots, peas and brown rice; chicken broth, onions, garlic, carrots, corn, potatoes and shredded cheddar cheese; classic clam chowder with haddock, snapper or salmon instead of clams; vegetable broth with Parmesan rind, broccoli, onions, rice and more Parmesan sprinkled on top; garlic broth, onions, potatoes and Monterey jack cheese.
For example, the other day I had leftover cooked chicken, half an onion and some chicken broth. So I scooped the chicken fat off the top of the broth, chopped up the onion and a couple of tired carrots and cooked them in the fat for about five minutes. Then I poured in the chicken broth, added dried sage and brought it to a boil. I added some broken pieces of spaghetti and let it simmer until al dente, then poured in some cream, added the chopped chicken and stirred in a few chopped green onions. The man of the house had seconds, so I’d say it was a successful experiment. Of course, the disadvantage of cooking this way is that when someone asks for the recipe, I tend to stutter a bit. But here’s a close approximation:
Half of a large yellow onion
Two or three carrots, peeled and chopped
2-3 tablespoons of chicken fat or butter
6 cups chicken broth
½ tsp dried sage
12 ounces wheat or rice spaghetti, broken in bite size pieces
2 cups cooked chopped chicken
1-2 cups cream
3 or 4 chopped green onions
Cook the carrots and onions in fat over medium heat for about five minutes. Pour in chicken broth and bring it to a boil. Add sage and spaghetti, simmer for 10-12 minutes. Mix in chicken, cream and green onions, heat through and serve.