I remember, as a young boy, watching Julia Child's cooking show. There was one particular show that would cause me to only eat fried fish. In the show Julia was making Bouillabaisse a la Marseillaise. I had forgotten the show until a couple years ago when I was surfing the tube and ran across the familiar voice of Julia and watched the show to the end. There was just something about those fish heads she used for the stock I guess.
I was motivated to try a fish chowder after viewing her show and knew if I didn't like it my wife would. Coincidentally this fish chowder gumbo recipe has become one of my favorite dishes and was derived from surfing the web for fish chowder recipes and as usual I added a little here and there to fit my taste more closely and I encourage you to do the same. The name suggest gumbo but only added the word gumbo because I added the smoked sausage which really adds to the chowder that personal flavor I mentioned so you can leave it out for a more traditional chowder if you like.
*1 lb crappie fillets, or other firm white fish, tilapia works great, cut into 2-inch pieces
*1 ½ cups heavy cream (warm separate before adding to pot)
*3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
*1/2 lb smoked sausage cut ¼ inch thick rounds
*2 medium yellow onions, chopped
*2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
*1/2 lb imitation crab meat
*1 teaspoon dried thyme
*1/2 cup dry white wine
*2 cups clam juice
*Salt & pepper to taste
Directions: In a large pot add a little olive oil and white wine and bring up to a boil. Now add the onions and simmer until translucent. Next add potatoes and enough water to cover and bring to a boil then reduce the heat and allow potatoes and onions to simmer while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Maintain water level in the pot as the potatoes and onions cook.
Now, in a skillet, sear the smoked sausage and set aside. You can add each ingredient to the pot as you go or set them aside while the potatoes and onions simmer. I like to sear my sausage even if it is fully cooked out of the package. It not only heats them up before adding to the pot but it also leaves those flavorful crumbs in the skillet. These crumbs are packed with flavor and are left in the skillet when preparing the roux. The sausage is what made me add gumbo to the name and prompted the making of the roux.
The roux: This step is one I added and while it is a roux it isn't a dark roux like you would make for gumbo. This roux is used to help thicken the soup a little and again I think it helps with the ease of just adding water to get the proportion right at the end and still maintain a thick soup that will continue to thicken as it simmers. I did find recipes that called for a blonde roux so there is such a thing as a white roux but this is how I make the roux for my Crappie Chowder Gumbo.
In the same skillet you seared the sausage, along with the little bit of fat and crumbs, add about a tablespoon of olive oil and another tablespoon of the white wine. Now pour a little clam juice in for taste. You can use water in place of the wine if you prefer. Bring the liquid to a boil then introduce the flour slowly as you stir. Stir in enough flour to create a thick roux the proportion being about the size of a golf ball. This roux not only thickens the chowder but it also grabs all that sausage flavor and adds it to the chowder as well. Cook the roux only until the flour taste is gone or if you don't want to taste the flour just cook until thick and until it takes a light yellow color. Add a little olive oil if needed to get the amount you want.
The Cream: In a sauce pan slowly warm the heavy cream just until hot then turn off the heat. It is important to warm the cream before adding it to the pot. If you add the cream cold it will separate and curdle and you will not have a creamy chowder. This is especially important if you choose to use a light cream or milk for your chowder. Most chowders call for just the cream and clam juice but since I use the water that the potatoes and onions are cooked in I like to use heavy cream and it works great. I just add water at the end if I need more soup.
Putting it all together: By now the potatoes and onions are tender do not strain. Slowly pour the warm heavy cream into the pot while stirring. Now add the sausage. Allow the heat to come back up to a simmer and then add the rest of the clam juice. Add enough water to cover the ingredients by an inch or so and allow to come back up in temperature. Now is a good time to add the spices. The imitation crab meat is fully cooked and can be added now and stirred into the chowder. Now add the crappie and stir. The light meat of the crappie takes the least amount of time to cook so I add it last. The fish will break apart unless you have some really thick chunks but that's OK. Once the chowder has simmered for a few minutes add the roux in small amounts and stir. Wait a minute or two before adding more because it takes a minute for the thickness to show itself. Add roux until the desired thickness is reached and remember the chowder will thicken more as it cooks.
Crappie Chowder Gumbo is just another excuse to get out there and do a little fishing this spring and another way to extend the outdoor experience into the night. This recipe is great at the campground and since it is simmered to perfection you can just set a pot on the grill outside and relax as other campers enjoy the aroma. Serve this chowder with your favorite breadsticks or crackers and it will last several days in the fridge if you can keep from eating it all at once.