It was the first morning that I stepped onto my un-insulated porch and felt a chill in the air that I knew it was time for a baked French Fish Chowder. Though I’ve enjoyed a summer of steamed lobsters, fish & chips and delicate pan-fried fish, I’m hankering for something different. Decidedly un-fussy, this simple dish can be prepared and in the oven in under ten minutes. Consider trying this recipe when you or a fisherman friend has freshly-caught bluefish which are plentiful during September when milder fish are out-of- season. Yes, I said the “b”- word. Having made this chowder with milder fish like haddock and cod, this is just about the only time when I personally prefer the taste of bluefish whose “rich” (oily) flavor balances out the sweeter components of the chowder. I admit to catching a beautiful 24 inch bluefish just last week but the weather was still warm and I wasn’t ready to heat up my oven so I returned him to the ocean.
French Fish Chowder
2 pounds of thick boneless, skinless fish fillets like bluefish, haddock or cod
4 pounds of waxy potatoes, peeled and diced into ½” chunks
1 stalk celery, diced
1 bay leaf
4 whole cloves
1 clove garlic, minced
3 yellow onions, peeled and diced (not Vidalia or other sweet variety)
1 stick butter (yes, put the whole stick in there and no, margarine is not acceptable)
¼ cup of dry white wine
A couple grinds of white pepper
¼ tsp. of salt
2 cups light cream or whole milk
Put all ingredients except cream/milk in a 3 quart casserole dish. Cover and bake at 375 for 45 minutes. Remove bay leaf and cloves. Break fish into small chunks and ladle into mugs or bowls; keep warm. Heat cream/milk to scalding and pour over fish in bowls. Garnish with fresh parsley, if desired. Serve with crusty French bread and butter.
- This makes an excellent main dish if you omit the cloves and cream and limit cooking time to 20 minutes but be sure to cut the potatoes small so they cook thoroughly.
- If you’re feeling virtuous, rather than French, you may reduce the amount of butter by half.
- ¼ cup white grape juice + a tsp. of white vinegar may be used in place of the wine with acceptable results.
Bluefish season never really ends and anglers may keep any size they catch but huge “alligator blues” may be caught in CT waters throughout September. They put up a great fight which makes them worth pursuing even on a catch and release basis. I’ve caught them using a green worm-style lure with a flashy attachment but they’ll respond to anything that is moving quickly and are generally found in reefs. For best flavor, be sure to eat or share within 24 hours of catching.
Connecticut Fluke/Summer Flounder season is open until Sept. 22nd and there’s no better eating fish than this mild favorite which may be found where the ocean floor is sandy. “Shorts” abound but 18” legal-sized beauties are out there. They respond well to pieces of squid.
Porgy/Scup season is open through the end of December and some of them are really big and plump. They are fun and easy to catch with a little piece of squid and remarkably abundant. Catch all you want because the daily limit is 30 per person! The smaller ones are great pan-fried and those 14” or larger are well worth filleting.
Black Sea Bass fishing is amazing this year with a limit of five daily through the end of the year. This delicate flesh and moderately thick fillet is fantastic cooked every way imaginable. They prefer the same rocky habitat as lobsters so there is a great chance of fishing gear getting caught but these beautiful fish are worth the slight risk.