November is usually the month that ushers the cold season. And that means soup and stew season. Warming dishes and drinks that our bodies crave to stay warm. On a November day twelve years ago, it was cool enough at midday for soup and this recipe was born.
What exactly is a chowder? The most common belief is that to qualify as a chowder, a soup has to have two characteristics. First, it must be thick and, second, it must have milk or cream. But that is just the contemporary definition. Historically, chowder was cooked with neither milk nor cream.
No one really knows the origin of chowder. Some say it is French and brought over to North America by French settlers. The name of the dish itself may have descended from chaudiere, the French cauldron where one-pot meals were cooked. Others say chowder is American.
Well, maybe it’s neither as it was very likely first cooked in the high seas. It’s a shipboard dish cooked by sailors. The earliest description of a dish called chouder was published in the Boston Evening Post in September 23, 1751.
First lay some Onions to keep the Pork from burning; Because in Chouder there can be not turning; Then lay some Pork in slices very thin, Thus you in Chouder always must begin. Next lay some Fish cut crossways very nice; Then season well with Pepper, Salt, and Spice; Parsley, Sweet-Marjoram, Savory, and Thyme, Then Biscuit next which must be soak’d some Time. Thus your Foundation laid, you will be able; To raise a Chouder, high as Tower of Babel; For by repeating o’er the Same again, You may make a Chouder for a thousand men.“Cooking it old school” in the Boston Globe
A century later, a similar description was given in the memoirs of a sea captain.
…and we frequently ‘served up a mess called chowder, consisting of a mixture of fresh fish, salt pork, pounded biscuit and onions; and which, when well seasoned and stewed, we found to be an excellent palatable dish.Memoirs of the late Captain Hugh Crow of Liverpool
Chowder has evolved since. So many variants. Thickened with roux or with potatoes. With or without milk or cream. Many with seafood but some without. This recipe has no roux, no potatoes, no milk or cream and no seafood. Just pureed vegetables and good chicken broth.
If this cauliflower chowder is made with pureed vegetables, why are there visible cauliflower florets in the photos? Well, if you have to puree vegetables to make a chowder, it really is a good idea to reserve a few pieces and stir them into the chowder later to provide visual and textural contrast.
You can make this cauliflower chowder several hours or even a day ahead.
- If you’re making the soup a couple of hours before serving, after simmering the vegetables to tenderness, just leave them in the pot, covered, and do the rest later.
- If making it the day before, you can cool the boiled vegetables, keep them in the fridge and do the rest of the steps half an hour before serving.
- Put the potatoes and three quarters of the cauliflower florets in a pot.
- Pour in ten cups of chicken bone broth.
- Season with salt and pepper (how much depends on how well seasoned your chicken bone broth is).
- Bring to the boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer until the vegetables are very tender.
- Using an immersion blender, puree the vegetables in the broth.
- Taste, and add more salt and pepper, if needed.
- If the soup is too thick for your taste, pour in more broth until you get the consistency that you prefer.
- Reheat the chowder.
- When simmering, add the reserved cauliflower florets.
- Cover and simmer for another ten minutes.
- Taste once more and adjust the seasonings, as needed.
- Ladle the soup into bowls (make sure everyone gets some whole cauliflower florets!).
- Garnish with sliced scallions and fried shallots, and serve.