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Smoked haddock chowder

(Jonathan levitt for the boston globe)
March 18, 2009

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Serves 4

Smoked fish, particularly smoked haddock, is exceptionally good in chowder. The sweet and briny smokiness tastes just right in a delicate milky broth. Finnan haddie is a type of smoked haddock originally from Finnan (also called Findon), a Scottish fishing village on the North Sea near Aberdeen. In Scotland at one time, haddock was lightly salted and then cold-smoked very gently over a slow peat fire. These days a similar product, still called finnan haddie, is smoked in New England over hard wood. To make the chowder, cook the smoked fish in water until it flakes (this is the start of a delicious broth). Then saute an onion and add it with the potatoes to the liquid, which thickens it a little. Return the fish to the pot with about as much milk as there is broth. Ladle the chowder into warm bowls and top with a knob of butter and some split and toasted common crackers - bland and crunchy and made in Vermont since 1828. Hard crackers, smoky fish, and sweet milk in one bowl means good chowder.

1 1/2 pounds skinless boneless finnan haddie, or other smoked white fish such as trout
3 cups water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped
6 boiling (not baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into small wedges
3 cups whole milk
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 common crackers
1. In a heavy-based pot, combine the fish and water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until the flesh loosens up and can be flaked with a fork. With a slotted spoon, transfer the fish to a plate. Flake the fish into bite-size pieces.

2. In a skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, for 8 minutes or until the onion softens. Add the onion and potatoes to the fish broth. Simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

3. Add the flaked fish and milk. Warm the chowder over very low heat just until it is hot. Remove it from the heat and let it steep for a few minutes.

4. Meanwhile, split the common crackers and toast them for 3 minutes or until browned.

5. Taste the chowder for seasoning and add salt and pepper. Gently warm it up again. Ladle it into bowls, add a little butter to each one, and float the crackers on top.

Jonathan Levitt