Salmon. I love it raw. I love it cooked. I love it smoked. I love it poached. I love it pan fried. I love it baked. I love it steamed. It is creamy, fishy and super rich.
Everything I’ve read says that salmon makes too strong a stock. I’m not afraid of a strong fish stock, but if a strong stock makes you queasy, this recipe is not for you.
I’ve wanted to make a chowder for the longest time and a quiet, Autumn weekend at home last month was a good time for it. You can easily spend too much on seafood for a chowder. Sure, it will be delicious, but what about making a delicious chowder using cheaper ingredients?
I picked up 2 salmon heads for cheap at my local asian market. Fish heads are usually cheap and I’ve been eyeing these up for a while now, wondering what to do with them. To prepare, make sure the gills are removed – they usually are. Cut the fins off with a pair of sharp scissors.
A 150 gram piece of hot smoked salmon happened to be on special at my supermarket. Mussels were always going to be the economical shellfish choice so I bagged 12 live ones. New Zealand green lipped mussels are large and meaty. 12 mussels will set me back about $2NZ. Dirt cheap!
Contrary to everything I know about seafood, this chowder gets better with age. We finished the last of this soup 2 days later and the flavours were stunning. I wouldn’t recommend bringing leftovers to work though. Unless you want to be the person who has to explain why the staff kitchen smells like fish heads and shellfish.
I’ve broken this recipe into 2 parts: the salmon head stock and then the salmon and mussel chowder which uses the stock, but if you prefer to use a regular fish stock or even a chicken stock, that’s fine too.
Salmon Head Stock
Makes 4 cups (enough for a chowder)
2 salmon heads
1 large onion
2 spring onions (scallions)
1 teaspoon mixed peppercorns
1 tablespoon oil
1/3 cup rice wine
6 cups water
- Heat oil in a large pan and gently fry the salmon head on both sides for a few minutes. The eyes may drop out, that’s fine.
- Prepare a large stock pot or dutch oven with lid. When the salmon heads are done frying, scoop them out and add to the pot.
- Roughly cut up onion and carrots and fry in the still hot pan until onions start to become translucent. Tip onions and carrots into the pot.
- To the pot: add 1 sweetcorn (quartered), 2 scallions (tied into a knot), 1 teaspoon mixed peppercorns.
Cover with 6 cups of water and 1/3 cup of rice wine. Bring the liquid to a shimmering simmer but do not boil. Simmer for for 20 minutes, skimming off any scum as it rises.
- Take out a chopping board or a plate and carefully remove the salmon heads from the pot. They may fall apart so make sure you get all the meaty bits. Pick out all the meat from the bones once cool enough to handle. Reserve and refrigerate the meat for another use. Add the bones back to the pot. Turn up the heat and boil uncovered for a further 20 minutes.
- Take off heat and strain the stock through a fine sieve or cheese cloth. Discard anything that is not stock. Taste and season the stock to your preference. Personally, I prefer to underseason stock. You can always add salt the final dish that you add the stock to. Once cooled, pour into a jar or suitable container and refrigerate or freeze (allow space for liquid to expand).
Salmon and Mussel Chowder
Makes enough chowder for 4 hungry adults
12 green lipped mussels
4 cups of salmon head stock (or use regular fish stock or chicken stock)
flaked meat from 2 cooked salmon heads
1 piece of hot smoked salmon (100g-150g)
1 bacon steak (150g)
1/2 cup cream
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
2 bay leaves
- Peel and dice potatoes. Peel and finely dice the onion. Dice the bacon steak.
- In a large pot, bring the stock to the boil and add potatoes, onion, bacon, bay leaves and tarragon. Cover, and boil for 30 minutes until potatoes are cooked. Gently mash potatoes into the stock so they break down and thicken the soup.
- Wash and put the mussels in a different pan (with lid). Add 2 cups of water, cover with lid and steam for about 5 minutes or until all mussels have opened. Drain the mussels, reserving the liquid. Remove the mussel meat from the shells. Discard shells and any seaweed beards. Roughly chop the mussels and add to the soup along with the steaming liquid.
- Gently flake the hot salmon meat, remove and discard the skin and add the flaked meat to the soup.
- Add the cream and milk and simmer gently for 10 minutes or until the soup is hot. Check for seasoning and add salt if you wish. Serve with a toasted baguette.