Lightly Curried Mussel Chowder
"Mussels are not a typical chowder ingredient, but they should be. They are easy to cook, their texture holds up well, the broth they produce has a lovely enticing fragrance, and they are not expensive. Often, in fact, they're free for the gathering. In addition, mussels have an appealing flavor that goes well with many kinds of seasoning. What else could you ask you? Although you rarely see or hear of a recipe for, or even a mention of, mussel chowder, since necessity often determines the ingredients in chowder making, mussel chowders do happen, or have happened at some time in the past. They just haven't had their fifteen minutes of fame yet." - Chef Jasper White.
5 pounds medium PEI (Prince Edward Island) mussels or other cultivated mussels (or 6 pounds wild)
4 ounces meaty salt pork, rind removed and cut into 1/3-inch dice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger (pinky-tip sized piece)
2 cloves garlic finely chopped (2 teaspoons)
1 small red bell pepper (4 to 6 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 medium onion (7 to 8 ounces) cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 tablespoon Madras curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound Yukon Gold, Maine PEI, or other all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 pound small or medium sweet potatoes peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 1/2 cups heavy cream (or up to 2 cups if desired)
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
3 scallions, thinly sliced
- Clean and debeard the mussels. Steam them open. Strain the broth, you should have 4 cups of broth (and 1 pound of mussel meat). Cover the shelled mussels and keep refrigerated until ready to use.
- Heat a 4 to 6-quart heavy pot over low heat and add the diced salt pork. Once it has rendered a few tablespoons of fat, increase the heat and add the diced salt pork. Once it has rendered a few tablespoons of fat, increase the heat to medium and cook until the salt pork is a crisp golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cracklings to a small oven-proof dish, leaving the fat in the pot, and reserve until later.
- Add the butter, ginger, garlic, bell pepper, onion, curry powder, and cayenne pepper, to pot and sauté, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 10 minutes, until the pepper and onion are softened but not browned.
- Add the white potatoes and the reserved mussel broth, turn up the heat, and bring to a boil. Cover and cook the potatoes vigorously for 5 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes. The broth should just barely cover the potatoes; if it doesn't, add enough water to cover. Lower the heat to medium, cover and cook for 6 to 8 minutes longer, until the white and sweet potatoes are soft on the outside but still firm in the center. If the broth hasn't thickened lightly, smash a few potatoes and sweet potatoes against the side of the pot and cook a minute or two longer to release their starch.
- Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the mussels and cream. Mussels are not as salty as clams, but you will still need to exercise a light hand as you season the chowder with salt. Add black pepper to taste. If you are not serving the chowder within the hour, let it cool a bit, then refrigerate; cover the chowder after it has chilled completely. Otherwise, let it sit at room temperature for up an hour, allowing the flavors to meld.
- When ready to serve, reheat the chowder over low heat; don't let it boil. Warm the cracklings in a low oven (200°F / 95°C) for a few minutes.
- Ladle the chowder into cups or bowls, making sure that the mussels, bell pepper, onion, and potatoes are evenly divided. Scatter the cracklings over the individual servings and sprinkle with the chopped cilantro and scallions.
Makes about 9 cups.
Recipe from Jasper White's Fifty Chowders; Scribner, 2000.