Summer is definitively over, but this year’s uncharacteristically warm beginning of autumn has encouraged the consumption of extra bell peppers, tomatoes, and other end-of-summer delights. We’ve eaten a lot of take-out lately, due to a busy, busy, busy season at work and school, and I am so over it.
In that spirit, I recently threw some on-hand ingredients into the slow cooker before leaving for work, in hopes they would become salmon chowder by evening. I had fresh Chinook salmon fillets (thank you, Pacific Northwest), a red bell pepper, a couple of pounds of sweet potatoes, an onion, and corn I charcoal-grilled and froze in August. Into the slow cooker they flew, dusted with sea salt and white pepper, and covered by chicken broth.
Upon my return home that evening, the whole house smelled miraculous. Eagerly, I topped off the chowder with some creamy, raw (soon to be not raw) milk, and dipped in a spoon…
…Meh. It was fine.
27 years ago, the gods bestowed upon me somewhat Mediterranean tastebuds, which have trouble enjoying dishes that are not sufficiently briney/vinegary/acidic/salted/flavorful. Give me spicy Thai curries, balsamic glazes, or salsa any day over pasta and cream sauce. Although oh my, pasta and cream sauce. What I mean to say is: throw some crushed red peppers and garlic into a cream sauce and I’ll eat it any day.
Rabbit-trailing back, the point is: the chowder needed something. I ain’t tryin’ to pay for no fresh salmon and have it simply NOURISH me. I am looking for an experience, here. A revelation.
It was obviously time to text my uncle Eric. A master of flavorful cooking, a pro at every technique and flavor profile, Eric always has the answer for me. He is also the only person I know who is as happy to engage in an animated food discussion before 8am as I am. (One of those happened this morning. It was unrelated to breakfast.) Salmon-wise, here was how the call-and-response went:
“Me: Salmon chowder with sweet potatoes and roasted corn. Needs a little kick. I have dry vermouth and dry sherry. Would either of those do it?
E: Chardonnay is what you want. Not sweet.
M: My only bottle is a good one I don’t want to open…
E: Wise. A dash of liquid smoke. Or fresh basil. Salmon likes aromatics. Don’t skimp on black pepper. And a little bit of lemon.”
I’ll be darned if the liquid smoke didn’t work magic. A healthy glug of this bad boy bottle, a chemical-free version that’s actually cheaper than the Amazon price at my local food co-op, half a lemon squeezed in, and many grinds of fresh black pepper, and the chowder tasted like it was born for my tastebuds.
As I say far too often (or maybe just often enough), it couldn’t have been easier. Then, probably ignoring food safety rules, I left the slow cooker on its very lowest setting for another 24 hours and we ate it again the next night. By then, its flavors had coalesced and taken on a lovely, warm depth that is just what the transitioning-to-autumn belly wants.
Lazy, smoky salmon chowder
1.5 lbs fresh salmon fillets, skinned and somewhat boned
2 lbs sweet potatoes, diced
1 or more C corn kernels (mine were grilled, then frozen)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
Ground white pepper
2 qt chicken stock (homemade is most nutritious)
2 C whole milk
Fresh black pepper
Celtic sea salt
Half a lemon
1 scant T liquid smoke
Dump the first six ingredients into your slow cooker and pour in chicken broth/stock to cover. Cook on low all day, then add the remaining ingredients, seasoning to taste, as always. Eat hearty, then cook it some more, then eat hearty again the next day.