April 11, 2012

potato chowder comfort

On a chilly wind-lashed day in spring, after a winter of temptingly mild days, we need comfort for supper tonight.  And to a descendant of good Swiss-German stock, nothing spells comfort like potato chowder.  This one has a  velvety-thick, cheese-laced base of milk and broth blanketing chunks of potato (cooked long enough that the edges are rounded), cubes of ham (or sausage rounds) and hard-boiled egg, seasoned with onion, garlic, and celery.

I often embark on potato-chowder-making with only my sieve of a memory on hand instead of a recipe, and since tonight's rendition smells particularly promising, I decided to write down the process for you, me, and posterity (case in point:  after making the soup, writing this post, and eating the soup, I remembered that I usually also put in corn).  Sorry, amounts are estimated.  We're making basically a dutch oven's worth of chowder.  (What is that, 4-6 quarts??)

First, peel the potatoes (no, I don't scrub them first since I'll be peeling all that scrubbed skin off).  Rinse (see, I'm not a total culinary heathen) and cut into cubes.  I used maybe six fist-sized potatoes tonight.  Pop them into a pan with an inch of water and about a teaspoon of salt and cook them (boil, then simmer) about 10 minutes.

While the potatoes cook, make your ambrosia, I mean white sauce.  Melt 3/4 stick of butter, throw in some diced onion (I used a half an onion tonight) and maybe a 1/3 cup of flour (this is not the time to substitute whole wheat).  Let it bubble a smidge for the flour to lose its raw flavor, then pour in 2 cups of milk (if you happen to use raw milk, slightly soured is even better) and stir constantly (or give the job to an eager youngster nearby) until it bubbles again.  Keep stirring, counting a minute.  By then it should be mouth-wateringly thick.  Now you just toss in all the goodies.

Tonight, that included:
3 hard-boiled eggs
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 cheddar sausages, sliced into half-rounds
the top third of four stalks of celery, minced (including the leaves)
maybe a cup or so of grated cheddar/monterey jack cheese
[and the afore-mentioned, forgotten 2-3 cups of corn]
2 cups of chicken broth
and, of course, the cubed, cooked potatoes and their water

[no, there is nothing magic about the threes ... just how it fell out tonight]

Stir every so often until everything is heated through.  Do NOT boil or even simmer after the white sauce is thickened.  I forget why (it clumps? separates?) but I think it is dire.  If you're curious, try it and let me know what happens.

Now, I know this is not exactly a vegetable-laden stew, but I do not serve it with any additional vegetables.  The virtuous among you may enhance the nutrition of the menu with a tossed salad.  I, however, am going for comfort with this soup, and I serve saltines or toast.

Enjoy!  I know we will ....

[p.s. I know some people put cooked carrots in their potato soup.  Go ahead if you like that - it adds great color, but I personally think it completely ruins the flavor.  Too vegetable-ly.]

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