Thursday, April 19, 2012

Flat-Broke Food: Chowder en Pisces

Fish-head stew. It's what Charlie's mom served in the movie Chaplin, when they were dead broke and about to get thrown out of their flat. Fish heads are certainly cheap: I just saw salmon heads at our local Vietnamese fish market for less than $1 a pound. (And salmon is running about $8-12/lb around here in Colorado -- $5.99/lb on sale.) 
    But can they be tasty?
    Yes -- if you follow a few standard rules. First, get them as fresh as possible. Next, look for the biggest heads you can find -- like salmon or sturgeon. (Salmon cheeks are actually considered a delicacy!) Ask the meat department clerk at your local grocery store. They may be discarding the heads when they process fish, and will be glad to sell them cheap -- or even give them away.
   Finally, cook them first to remove the meat: scrub the heads in warm water with a little vinegar, cover with fresh boiling water, and gently simmer until the meat is firm and flakes easily. Pull the meat off, and use it in your favorite recipe. (Discard any fat - it's what gives it that fishy taste -- preferably to your dog or cat!)
     Once it cools, pour out the cooking water on any plants that could use the extra nutrients. The bones can be buried near plants, as well.

This fish is wonderful in pasta or a casserole. Or try it in a chowder, like this 'receet' inspired by one in Stories and Recipes from the Great Depression of the 1930s, Vol. III, by Rita Van Amber.

approx. 2-4 pounds meat from larger fish heads
           (Two sturgeon heads will give you about 3-4 pounds meat. Substitute 2-3 pounds salmon heads, if you prefer, or other fish heads. Prepare the heads first, using the instructions above. If you think this will bother your guests or family, tell them after the meal -- or not at all. This is our secret.)

6-10 cups chicken broth
     (or use water and 5 chicken bouillon cubes. 
          A few cups of meat gravy, plus water, can be substituted)
5-8 potatoes
1 onion
3 carrots

3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk 

Start the broth; while it's heating, dice the meat and chop the vegetables. Dump everything into the simmering broth, and let cook for about 30-45 min. (Or 3-4 hours on low in a crockpot.) Add more water as needed to keep it at soup consistency.
     Mix flour in milk, pour it in and stir until the soup thickens. "Do not boil after you add the milk mixture; keep it just below the boiling point. Salt to taste and add all the pepper your family can enjoy. I like it to warm me as it goes down..."
     (thanks to Carl Holland for his contribution. Serves from 4-8)

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