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Monday, November 24, 2008

Leite do mar

Yesterday was a whirl. After our Oxfam Thanksgiving Lunch - which included an exercise in world hunger, led by Deacon Diane Reilly, that was simply eye-opening - I made a pastoral call, then raced to the gym and stopped off at the market on my way home to make my Grandmother's Leite do mar.

Roughly translated, that means "Milk of the Sea" - an incredible seafood chowder.

Our Christmas Bazaar is December 6th. Last year, we sold 800 quarts of soup. Actually, we sold out two hours before the end of the bazaar. That was even better than our "Cookie Walk" which is a pretty amazing assortment of confections. It was incredible. So, I'm making double what I made last year.

The thing of it is, the ingredients vary depending on what my grandfather uncles ("the boys" as my grandmother called them) caught. Later, after my grandfather died, it depended on what was on sale at the fish market.

My grandmother also used whole milk and light cream (I use fat free half and half - it makes me feel better about the bacon and all that butter) and the best cream sherry she had in her pantry. I use Lustau, lacing it in two heavy dollops on the top of the soup shortly before it is served.

She also would save some of the summer corn, shaving the kernels from the cob, and toss that in as well. I have never found canned corn satisfactory, so if I don't have any summer corn in my freezer, I don't add it. She also garnished with some fresh parsley from her garden.

The key is freshness. Don't skimp on this point. It really makes all the difference.

So, here's my grandmother's recipe. It makes a huge pot and freezes very well. Ms. Conroy and I had a bowl for supper last night. Yum, yum, yum.

Leite do mar (VaVoa's Portuguese Seafood Chowder)

1 pound bacon
1/2 pound butter
one large onion, finely chopped
one head of garlic (yes, that much), finely chopped
1 pound each of five to seven kinds of seafood. (I prefer the combination of:
shrimp (I like the colossal, cut in half) , scallops (I prefer bay to sea), minced clams (canned are fine), and salmon or pollock or some other 'meaty' fish, crab meat, flounder, oysters, muscles.
1 and a 1/2 quarts of fat free half and half (or whole milk and light cream)
1 (14.5 ounce) can vegetable or chicken broth
6 medium new or red potatoes
1/2 cup fresh corn (optional)
Cream sherry
Salt and pepper to taste

In a very large soup pot on low flame, put the vegetable or chicken broth along with two small or one large cans of minced clams, with the clam broth. If you are using fresh frozen corn, add it to the pot. Keep it simmering. Don't let it boil. Stir the pot from time to time (like all good revolutionaries do).

In a small pan, boil the potatoes in water until fork-tender.

In a very large skillet, fry bacon until very crisp. Drain, cool, crumble and set aside. Into that same skillet, add one stick of butter and saute the finely chopped onions and garlic until translucent. When done, transfer with a slotted spatula into the large soup pot.

In that same skillet, begin to saute the fish and shellfish, one ingredient at a time. I usually start with the salmon or fish, then the shrimp, then the scallops. Cook them each just until done. Do not overcook. As each is done, drain and put into the soup pot.

When the potatoes are fork tender (a little resistance is not a bad thing), remove from heat, drain, cool, and cut into bite-sized pieces. Add to the skillet to brown slightly. (You may need another 1/2 stick of butter). Salt and pepper to taste while they are browning.

Add the cubed potatoes and crumbled bacon to the pot. Stir well.

When all the ingredients are in, add the half and half (best to have left it at room temperature before adding. Salt and pepper to taste. Careful here: you can always adjust the seasonings 'up' rather than 'down' according to your own tastes preference. I think it tastes best with lots of fresh ground black pepper, but that's just me. Let it all simmer together for about 20 minutes so that the different tastes can "marry" each other.

Add two very heavy dollops of cream sherry, stir gently but well, and let it simmer for another 10 minutes. My grandmother always made the sign of the cross with the sherry and said a little prayer of thanksgiving for the "milk of the sea". Actually, that may have been the secret ingredient.

Stir together gently and taste again for seasonings. You may want to add an additional dollop of cream sherry immediately before serving. Serve in a deep bowl, sprinkled with a few sprigs of parsley, with a side of light salad, hot, crusty, buttered bread and the wine of your choice.

Calories? Fuggedeboutit! It's winter. My grandmother always said you need more calories in the winter. You gonna argue with my grandmother? Even from the grave, she'd be a formidable opponent. Just hit the gym for an additional 30 minutes the next day or do an additional hour at the gym that week. Trust me. It's worth it.

Freeze whatever is left over in tightly sealed quart containers. The only thing better than fresh chowder is days old chowder.



Jim said...

I am for sure gonna try that one! It sounds absolutely spectacular. Of course, being a Magyar and Rom mutt, I may, might, could perhaps, slip a little paprika into the bacon...


June Butler said...

Elizabeth, that looks delicious. I showed the picture and the ingredients to Grandpère, and he told me to copy the recipe.

I'd leave the corn out, but he will want the corn in, and since he will very likely cook the dish, I expect it will go his way. Thank you.

June Butler said...

PS: My grandmother was a superb Creole cook, and summer or winter, she never gave a thought to calories.

Mel said...

How much does this make and/or number of servings?

Fran said...

Mmmmm... obrigado!

Ron Miller said...

the bacon means that this doesn't work for us who try for one or two meatless days/week. Mary would love to fix this but... Do you have a work around?

KJ said...

So one can use the fat free half-and-half (I'm not quite sure what the halves consist of if there be no cream.) in soup? I've not gotten brave enough to try, and have avoided making chowders since the doc told me "no saturated fats for you!"

Jane R said...


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mimi - this works really well with oysters and crab meat. Actually, the broth can nicely hold another pound or so of fish without being too crowded. Now, I don't know about crawdads. Then, it would be more a Louisiana chowder and less a Portuguese one.

Calories, schmalories. When it comes to good food, I'm there.

Mel - I filled up 6 quart containers - five for the freezer and one for us for supper. So, I'm thinking about 3 servings per container times six equal 18 generous adult servings.

Ron - do you mean "meatless" = "beefless"? If so, I have found that turkey bacon works very well - especially in recipes I've fixed for people on lower sodium, lower fat diets.

Otherwise, just skip the bacon and use more butter. It won't taste quite the same but we all make sacrifices. I think if you add more cream sherry, after a while, it will be, "No bacon? What, no bacon?"

KJ - I've been using the low fat 1/2 'n 1/2 for several years now and it works just fine. Can't taste the difference, really. (See cream sherry above).

Seriously, I make a wonderful salmon chowder and I use the fat free stuff and it works just fine.

My daughter called today about Thanksgiving and I told her I made a VAT of this chowder. "Oh," she said, "Sea milk!"

I had forgotten that's what we called it when we were kids.

June Butler said...

Elizabeth, I expect that oysters and crab meat would do very well, but crawfish would overwhelm the flavor of the chowder.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mimi - I would thing the crawfish would be way too overpowering. BTW, you could convince Grandpere to use the corn as a garnish. I've done that, too, when I didn't have a lot of the fresh frozen corn left in the freezer. That way, you don't have to have the corn in yours.

June Butler said...

Good thought about the corn, Elizabeth.

Jim said...

The paprika wont make it too un-Portuguese would it? I mean the stuff is grown and processed there and right next door in Spain. Besides, tribal cousins roam through that part of the world. They are not my tribe but IME they can cook.

I suppose I could skip it.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Okay, Jim, I confess: I have been known to sprinkle paprika on this dish - just a few sprinkles, generally around Christmas time. It goes so well with the parsley.

And yes, paprika is used quite a bit in Portuguese cooking. Most of the chicken and fish I ate growing up was red.

But, if you wouldn't put paprika on mother's milk, you probably wouldn't put paprika on Leite do Mar.


Sara said...

It's midnight and now I'm hungry! Could someone please Fedex the ingredients to me? Actually, I think I can find most except the half n half. Darn, I'll just have to use real cream. How many more hours at the gym is that? Thanks for the recipe.

Muthah+ said...

ohhh, thanks EMK. This looks scrumptious. I have never been treated to Portugese cooking. I know some spanish cuisine, but have never gone into Portuguese. Guess I am going to have to try this one

suzanne said...

I made this today, and it is absolutely yummy. Rich, but yummy, and yes I too sprinkled a little paprika in it. thank you for sharing your grandmother kitchen with us.