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Bahamian Fish Chowder

Based on a recipe from my Florida cousins this classic tomato-based fish chowder is reminiscent of my grandfather's.  He would arise at 4:00 in the morning and head off to his favorite fishing spots.  By 10:00 am he would be back, and his house would be filled with the wonderful smells of his "fish stew."  Thank heaven for comfort food!  Oh yeah, you can substitute fresh conch (if you can get it) for the fish, and imagine you're rubbing elbows with Papa Hemmingway in old Key West!

For those of that aren’t familiar with Florida's famous conch chowder it is tomato-based, it should be relatively spicy (although I know the restaurants tending the tourist trade can’t make it too spicy) and have bold flavors. And it can contain an assortment of chopped veggies. The conch itself is as much for tradition as for flavor as it tends to be a chewy, rather bland shellfish that is used more because it is so plentiful in south Florida and the Keys than due it’s culinary properties. Another variation on this theme are the wonderful fish chowders that you find in the Bahamas and other West Indies islands. In most cases the broth, veggies and seasonings are pretty much the same for both. Either way you're bound to find this recipe to be authentic, and a keeper.

1 ½ pounds   boneless grouper, halibut or cod
4 slices   bacon, cut into 1/4" pieces
1 medium   onion, chopped
2 ribs   celery, chopped
1 medium   bell pepper, minced
2 medium   russet potatoes, ¼" dice
4 cups diced tomatoes
5 cups   fish stock (substitute chicken)
½ teaspoon   salt
½ teaspoon   thyme
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 whole Scotch Bonnet chile seeded and deveined (see notes)
1 whole bay leaf
Lime juice

Dice the fish into approximately ½” cubes and place in mixing bowl. Add the juice of one lime, toss together and place in fridge for 30 minutes, tossing a couple of times more.

Heat a heavy bottom pot over a medium fire and add the bacon. Cook until fat is rendered but do not crisp. Add the Holy Trinity (onion, celery, bell pepper) and sauté until softened. Add all remaining ingredients, return to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally.

For best results allow to cool completely and reheat before serving (however, once the smells permeate the kitchen the odds against you being able to wait increase considerably ;^)

Notes:

  1. I strongly urge you to use Scotch Bonnet peppers. If you must substitute do so with Habaneros or Datils. These close chile cousins exhibit an earthy, smoky flavor that add much more than heat. Other chiles will detract from the flavor and the island pedigree of this dish.
  2. Additionally please note that bonnies and habs are hot! One bonnie gave this pot of chowder a serious bite. If you’re heat averse you may want to go with a half of chile. Or remove the seeds and devein first. As always – handle with care.
 

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