A little Irish music to set you up for a bit of cooking: click here. And, in the Irish, as they say, “La fheile padraig!”
I’ve been making Salmon Chowder for a good long while; there’s a really easy and light version in my soup cookbook, SOUPS & SIDES FOR EVERY SEASON. If by chance you’ve made it, you’ll know it’s perfect spring or summertime fare for the day after you’ve grilled a big piece of salmon and don’t know what to do with the leftovers. Likewise it’s for fall or winter if you’ve roasted a side of salmon for company and only used the big fat inner slices for the dinner table, leaving the skinny ends smelling up the fridge. This year, though, I was into something a little different…
Late summer, 2014 in Dunsmore East, Ireland (the port for Waterford)
The Irish, along with my fair Scots, have some of the best salmon in the world, but more often make a mixed fish and seafood chowder such as Donal Skehan’s Howth Head Seafood Chowder.
below: a couple of Dublin street scenes from our 2014 trip
In Irish mythology, a creature called the Salmon of Knowledge plays key role in the tale The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn. In the tale, the Salmon will grant powers of knowledge to whoever eats it, and is sought by poet Finn Eces for seven years. Finally Finn Eces catches the fish and gives it to his young pupil, Fionn mac Cumhaill, to prepare it for him. However, Fionn burns his thumb on the salmon’s juices, and he instinctively puts it in his mouth. In so doing, he inadvertently gains the Salmon’s wisdom. Elsewhere in Irish mythology, the salmon is also one of the incarnations of both Tuan mac Cairill and Fintan mac Bóchra.
above: wikipedia article on salmon
And while I don’t exactly find a lot of evidence for solely salmon chowder being a typical Irish dish, it does pop up now and again because cooks will cook with what’s available. And in Ireland, that’s sometimes salmon and oftentimes potatoes.
above: one happy man
below: a favorite photograph of mine taken near the Cliffs of Moher, in County Clare– summer 2003
This version does not require cooking the salmon ahead, but is that much quicker as it depends on you to chop up a couple of fillets while you sauté the vegetables and add the broth. I like the addition of the springtime asparagus for a complete meal and the good bit of Irish cheddar added as a garnish makes the soup feel decadent without going overboard.
at left and above two photos: Downpatrick, Northern Ireland
Great for St. Patrick’s Day, my chowdah would serve well for your Lenten Friday Fish meal, too. (Make a double batch!) Could you drink a Guinness? Of course. But you might like a nice big, cold white wine instead.
above: taps in the bar in the sky at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin
And maybe you’d like to make some real-deal Irish Soda Bread (below) from none other than herself, Ireland’s best kept secret: Darina Allen. I just happened to have tried it; read up here. I’ve had such fun over the years blogging St. Patrick’s Day food; just type St. Patrick’s Day in the search box and see what pops up.
While this appears to be a lengthy list of ingredients, if you’d like to simplify the cooking process and maybe the costs, see the cook’s notes for some things to sub or leave out.
- 2 tablespoons Irish butter
- 2 leeks, well cleaned, trimmed, and sliced thinly (white and light green parts only–save the large dark-green leaves for vegetable stock)
- 2 stalks celery, sliced thinly
- Handful chopped fresh parsley plus extra for garnish
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill (1 1/2 teaspoons if using dry)
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper (or black pepper)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
- 8 ounces (1 cup) clam juice
- 1 cup water
- 2 medium Idaho potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/4-inch pieces
- 2 small parsley roots, sliced and diced into 1/4-inch pieces– well-scrubbed but not peeled (can sub 2 small peeled and diced parsnips or carrots)
- 1/2 pound fresh salmon, skinned, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (check for the odd bones, discarding them before adding the salmon pieces to the chowder)
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 1 cup half-and-half (or milk)
- 6 stalks fresh asparagus, well-trimmed and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
- A few drops of hot sauce, optional (I like Tabasco.)
- 4 ounces Irish cheddar, grated (about 1/2 cup) for generous garnish
- 1/4 cup minced smoked salmon for garnish, optional
In a 6-quart pot, heat the butter over medium flame and add the leeks, celery, parsley, dill, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring regularly, about 8 minutes or until the vegetables have softened, but have not taken on any color. Add the garlic; cook another minute or two, stirring.
Pour in broth and water; bring to boil. Add potatoes, lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook until potatoes are nearly tender–10-12 minutes. In a large measuring cup, whisk the corn starch into the half-and-half or milk. Add salmon, milk mixture, and asparagus. Bring back to a simmer, and let cook until the salmon and asparagus are just barely done and the chowder is thickened–perhaps 2-3 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding a few drops of hot sauce, if desired.
Divide chowder between the bowls and serve hot with a couple of tablespoons of grated Irish cheddar each, a sprinkle of the reserved chopped parsley, and the smoked salmon, if using.
Storage Note: May 7, 2016–I froze this with great results. Simply unthawed overnight in the fridge and warmed slowly to steaming, but not boiling. A little more seasoning, along with the cheese and green onions, and dinner was on.
Cook’s Notes for a Simpler Version
- Use any kind of butter. 2. Use chopped yellow onions (2 medium) in place of the leeks. 3. Use more water in place of clam juice. 4. Skip the parsley roots and sub either another 1/2 potato or parsnips. 5. Use canned salmon in place of the fresh. 6. Use any sharp Cheddar.
Cook’s Notes for a Richer Version
In place of the Irish butter, sauté 4 pieces chopped thick bacon. Continue recipe.
PRINTABLE RECIPE:Recipes-Soup-Salmon Chowder
Click here to learn about Lenten practices
Traditional Irish Music
Easy places for Irish recipes and a little more:
(Northern Ireland: Above, left: Near Downpatrick, County Down. Below: Church of Ireland, St. Patrick’s Memorial Church–Saul, allegedly where St. Patrick died.)
What do folks usually eat for Saint Patrick’s Day in Ireland? (via NPR’S SPLENDID TABLE’S INTERVIEW WITH IRELAND’S OWN DARINA ALLEN.)
JR: St. Patrick’s Day has become a global celebration of Irish Culture. In Ireland it’s a feast day and a holy day. What might be on the table at a typical Irish St. Patrick’s Day feast, and how do you celebrate?
DA: It could be anything. Some people might even have corned beef and cabbage, but despite the perception that we live on it over here in Ireland, many families don’t have it from one end of the year to the other.
We just showed our students how to make corned beef from scratch last week from our own organic Kerry beef — they loved that.
Our typical St Patrick’s Day family meal might be comforting bacon, cabbage and parsley sauce with champ, a fluffy Irish mashed potato dish with scallions, followed by a tart or pie made from the first little spears of the new season’s rhubarb. If we were having a starter it might be a watercress soup or a little of Bill Casey’s smoked salmon with a devilled egg and some Ballymaloe brown bread.
We celebrate St Patrick’s Day in the time-honored way around the table with family and friends, children and grandchildren (we now have nine!). Some will have gone to see the St Patrick’s Day parade in Cork or in our local town of Midleton. We love to have little vases of the first primroses on the table.
What is Irish Food? By Catriona Redmond
Belfast, Northern Ireland–Coming away from the Parliament building here.
all photographs copyright alyce morgan 2003, 2014