Oyster and Leek Chowder
"You can buy preshucked oysters, and some are very good, but quality varies. Talk to your fish vendor about them. If you shuck your own, you can be sure of their origin and freshness. Oysters are one of the most delicate of seafoods, so treat them gently. Once they are added to the chowder, stirring should be kept to a minimum." - Chef Jasper White.
2 medium leeks (about 12 ounces)
1 pint shucked oysters with their juice (about 30 medium oysters)
4 ounces slab (unsliced) bacon, rind removed and cut into 1/3-inch dice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold, Maine, PEI, or other all-purpose potatoes, quartered and sliced 1/3-inch thick
3 cups fish stock or water (as a last resort)
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest (yellow part only, no white pith)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups heavy cream
Kosher or sea salt, if needed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
- Remove the tough outer leaves from each leek and discard (or reserve for stock). Trim off the roots and the dark green tops of the leaves. Then cut each leek in half where the white meets the green. Split the white part lengthwise in half, then cut across into 1/3-inch slices. Do the same with the green half, removing any darker green parts and slicing only the light green part. Place the leeks in a pot of water and let soak briefly to remove any dirt, then lift them out and drain them in a colander. It is important to drain them well, or they will steam rather than sauté.
- Shuck the oysters over a bowl to catch all their juices. Check them over and pick out any fragments of shell. Refrigerate them, in their juices, until ready to use.
- Heat a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot over low heat and add the bacon. Once it has rendered a few tablespoons of fat, increase the heat to medium and cool until the bacon is a crisp golden brown. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat, leaving the bacon in the pot.
- Add the butter, leeks, and bay leaf, and sauté, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 8 minutes, until the leeks are softened but not browned.
- Add the potatoes and fish stock. The stock should just barely cover the potatoes-if it doesn't, add enough water to cover. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil, cover the pot, and cook the potatoes vigorously for about 8 minutes, until they are soft on the outside but still firm in the center. If the broth hasn't thickened lightly, smash a few potatoes against the side of the pot and cook a minute or two longer to release their starch. Add the nutmeg, lemon zest, lemon juice, and black pepper to taste.
- Remove the pot from the heat. Gently stir in the oysters and cream and season to taste with a little salt. Since the oysters are naturally salty, you will need very little if any additional salt.) 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 to an hour, allowing the flavors to meld.
- When ready to serve, reheat the chowder over low heat; don't let it boil. Ladle into cups or bowls, making sure that the oysters potatoes, leeks and bacon are evenly divided. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and minced chives.
Makes 5 to 6 main dish servings.
Recipe from Jasper White's Fifty Chowders; Scribner, 2000.