Christmas Eve Chowder
Chowder is ideal for Christmas Eve dinner especially after we’ve all had a number of busy weeks since even before Thanksgiving. Whether it is white or red, with seafood, clams, fish or vegetables, chowder “breathes reassurance…and offers consolation.” (According to Louis P. DeGouy, a former chef of the Waldorf-Astoria. I agree with him. Just reading those words slowly I feel calmer.)
Did you know there is a long tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve? In Italy and many Eastern European nations as well as in parts of the U.S., chowder in some form has become a time-honored part of the Christmas Eve meal. Add a green salad and perhaps some crusty bread and you have an easy, tasty and comforting holiday meal.
Salmon or Corn & Potato Chowder
Until two days ago, I had always prepared this chowder with salmon. However, the other morning I realized this recipe would be equally delicious as a vegetarian/vegan Corn and Potato Chowder—and indeed it is with a few minor adjustments to the recipe.
Although this chowder recipe may look a bit complex, it is actually quite straight-forward. I have detailed everything you need to know to be successful—to have a Christmas Eve (or any other time of year) chowder you’re pleased to serve.
Gluten-Free & Non-Dairy Chowder?
Whereas most chowder recipes add cream and many add flour, it is very easy to prepare both a gluten-free and non-dairy chowder. By pureeing a bit of the soup, you take advantage of potatoes’ natural thickening ability. And, a blend of blanched, slivered almonds and double their amount of soup broth (in this case Saffron Broth) creates an excellent substitute for cream.
This easy and delicious recipe for a Christmas Eve Chowder features a golden-hued Saffron Broth which is amazing in both fragrance and depth of flavor. Although some recipes that use a lot of liquid like soups or salad dressings just say to crumble the saffron threads and add them directly to the dish, if you soak the saffron in boiling water for even a few minutes, there will be better distribution of color as well as a stronger saffron flavor.
This rich broth can be prepared and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week before you use it to prepare the chowder. If you are able to do so, prepare the Saffron Broth at least one day in advance, so on Christmas Eve your chowder will more quickly come together.
Yield: 7-8 cups
½ teaspoon saffron threads soaked in ¼ cup boiling water for 10-20 minutes.
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, lightly toasted
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped (about 3 cups)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of a knife
3 cups coarsely chopped fresh tomatoes
2 Turkish bay leaves
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, covered, for 5 minutes, till the onion is translucent. Stir in the garlic and lightly toasted fennel seeds and cook, uncovered, for another few minutes until the onions become golden.
Stir in the tomatoes, bay leaves, saffron and its soaking water. Cook for a minute more stirring in any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add 10 cups of water. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for one hour.
Strain the broth through a fine sieve, pressing out as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids. If not using immediately, cool and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Or, freeze for up to a year.
Salmon or Corn & Potato Chowder w/ Saffron Broth & Almond Cream
This is the basic recipe for Salmon Chowder with a couple of special instructions for preparing Corn & Potato Chowder.
Yield: about 15 cups
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, ¼-inch dice (about 2 cups)
1 ½ cups celery, halved and cut into ¼-inch thick slices
2 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed through a garlic press
2 sprigs of fresh thyme OR 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 Turkish bay leaves
2 ½ teaspoons sea salt
Dozen twists freshly ground pepper
3 ½ cups Russet, red and/or Yukon gold potatoes, ½ inch dice
7 cups unsalted Saffron Broth (see recipe below) OR vegetable stock
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
½ cup blanched slivered almonds
12-14 ounces wild salmon, boneless, skinless, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley and/or finely cut fresh chives
Corn & Potato Chowder
- Use fire-roasted diced tomatoes for this chowder.
- Replace the salmon with 3 cups of fresh or frozen organic corn.
- Add the corn to the chowder after the potatoes have cooked for 30 minutes.
Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook covered about 5 minutes until the onions are translucent. Stir in the celery and minced garlic and cook uncovered for another 5 minutes. Add the thyme, fennel seeds, bay leaves and salt and pepper; stir to coat the vegetables.
Add the potatoes, 6 cups of the saffron broth or vegetable stock and the diced tomatoes. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat, partially cover the pot and simmer for 35-40 minutes until the potatoes are soft.
Meanwhile prepare the Almond Cream: Blend the almonds and 1½ cups of saffron broth on high-speed until smooth, about 4 minutes. Stir into the soup once the potatoes are soft.
Blend 2 cups of the soup vegetables and broth along with any remaining saffron broth, until smooth. Stir this back into the soup along with the salmon pieces. Lightly simmer the soup about 2 minutes to cook the salmon. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper as needed.
Before serving, remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Garnish each bowl with freshly chopped parsley and or finely cut fresh chives.