I lived in New England for 8 years and miss the incredible seafood there. Maine lobster fresh from the ocean, soft shell steamer clams and amazing chowders. There’s nothing quite like it in my new hometown, so I do the next best thing and make it myself. This oyster chowder with corn and bacon is reminiscent of one in a restaurant near Marblehead that isn’t there anymore. It has big chunks of fresh oysters and lots of sweet corn. They are an amazing combination.
Chowder really is one of the best comfort foods. It’s creamy and rich, best served with crackers or some crusty bread. I like to get a big bowl and alternate bites of soup with bites of French bread soaked in the rich broth. Then you clean up the bottom of the bowl with one last swipe of buttered bread. This is not a soup for dieters. The best way to make this is to have some fresh shucked oysters. Please use them if you can. If you’re like me though, shucking oysters in my kitchen just isn’t an option with a baby under foot. My supermarket has containers of fresh oysters for a very decent price. They work just fine for chowder, without all the mess. Another difficult-to-find ingredient is fish stock. I make my own from leftover fish bones and shrimp shells and store it in the freezer just for recipes like this. If you don’t have fish stock, you can use any combination of clam juice, chicken broth or vegetable broth.
Strain the oysters, reserving the liquid. Check oysters for any shells and chop them into large chucks if they are very big.
In a large pot, cook bacon over medium heat until brown and crispy. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan. Add butter, onion, celery and garlic to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Season with salt, Old Bay seasoning and bay leaf. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir. Cook for 5 minutes more.
Gradually add the milk, wine and seafood stock (or substitute) and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and lower the heat to simmer for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are fork tender. Stir in the cream, corn and parsley. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add in the oysters and their liquid and cook for about 2 minutes more. Add lemon juice. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Green beans are a staple in American kitchens. We all have our favorite ways of cooking them and eating them, whether it’s straight out of a can (vivid memories of school lunches), covered in cream of mushroom soup and fried onions, or simply steamed. Me? I like them with crispy bacon, garlic and onions. This is my go-to way to cook green beans. The recipe is easy and full of flavor, and you won’t find many leftovers when these hit the table. Cooked in a rich chicken broth and lots of fresh pepper; they have a savory taste you’ll love. The beans keep their bright green color and crunch, and swim in a delicious, garlicky broth. I usually dip my beans in it while eating them, and have been known to slurp up the rest directly from the plate.
Green beans are best when they are fresh and in season. Don’t buy beans that have dark spots or look shriveled or limp. You want them to be firm and bright green. You’ll find them in-season locally in late summer. The rest of the year, they are imported. The best green beans are young and small. These are tender and will cook quickly, no longer than 7-10 minutes. Larger beans require a longer cooking time and may lose their bright green color by the time they are cooked.
To prepare your beans, snip off the end with the stem by hand. This bit is tough and you don’t want to eat it. You can snip off both ends with kitchen shears or a knife to make it this process faster. If the beans are very long or large, cut them in half or into inch-size pieces.
In a medium-sized pot, cook bacon on medium heat until crispy and brown. Remove bacon to a paper towel, keeping about 1 tablespoon of bacon fat in the pan (if you don’t have this much, add some olive oil).
Add the onions to the hot pan, stirring until soft. Add garlic and green beans. Pour in chicken stock and season with salt. Bring to a boil.
Cook over medium-high heat, turning the beans every few minutes so they cook evenly. After 7-10 minutes, check the beans to see if they are tender. If they are, remove them from the pan with tongs, leaving the stock in the pan.
Turn the heat to high and let the stock reduce by at least half. When it is reduced, taste for seasoning and add fresh pepper. Toss the beans in the reduced liquid and arrange on a deep plate. Sprinkle bacon on top and serve.
In late Spring, you may be lucky enough to find fresh English peas in the market. Don’t miss out on this rare opportunity to taste peas fresh instead of frozen or canned. They take a little extra work, but are worth the effort. My favorite way to eat them is straight from the pod. Just pop them open and scoop the sweet, raw peas into your mouth. My mom would let us eat them in the shopping cart at the market and it was always a treat. When buying them, make sure the pods are green and plump. Buy more than you think you need, as you’ll only get 8-10 peas per pod.
Fresh peas are amazing cooked as well, like in this recipe for English peas and bacon. The sweet peas are even sweeter paired with salty bacon. It makes for a wonderful side dish with just about anything. I served this dish for my husband, who had never eaten them fresh. They were gobbled up very quickly. Almost too quickly, because that was the end of the season. Now we need to wait another year before they show up again.
Yield: Serves 4
In a saucepan, boil peas in water until they are slightly soft and bright green, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from water and set aside.
Saute bacon pieces until crisp and brown, then remove from pan, leaving a few teaspoons of fat in the pan. Cook shallots and sugar in the bacon fat until shallots are soft. Return peas and bacon to the pan and season with salt and pepper.