Give me a bowl of soft, stewed potatoes, and I’ll eagerly dig in. Add diced bacon to that bowl, and I might not even use silverware. Throw some haddock in there as well, and my enthusiasm will unceremoniously disappear.
This was the sad song and dance I did with myself (the bacon actually got added before the potatoes in the real-life version) as I endured an entire bowl of fish chowder.
“Bethy, I didn’t realize you liked fish. What fish do you eat?” Um, remember that salmon I tried last month? That’s it. The list is done. It’s a list of one salmon (two salmon since I was sneaky and tried it with pesto without telling you guys*).
And I was so emboldened by those two pieces of salmon eaten over the course of 27 years of life that I decided to pick out a new fish and *bOiL* it. WTF.
It gets even crazier, though: haddock was not the only unfamiliar ingredient to me in this chowder! The major flavor in the broth came from a generous dose of turmeric.
While reading the comments on Sam Sifton’s “no-recipe recipe” for fish chowder, I was intrigued by one person’s suggestion of turmeric “for color”. A lot of cooks talk about adding paprika to dishes for color, so I figured turmeric’s contribution to the chowder would more or less end there.
I’m not saying I disliked the spice’s flavor, because actually I think it worked quite well on the soft potatoes. But in a bowl of warm, fishy stew, I would’ve appreciated a familiar face like garlic or peppers (or chicken instead of fish because why did I think that I’d suddenly eat any fish?).
Which brings me to the haddock. I couldn’t discern a strong flavor beyond “aquatic” given the other elements of the chowder, but if you’re going to have one discernible flavor, “aquatic” shouldn’t be it. That said, after just a few minutes in the stew, the fish was so flaky it practically disintegrated on my tongue, so it had that going for it.
As I write this, it occurs to me that the haddock’s subtle, verging-on-bland flavor and winning texture are really very potato-like of the fish. I should love this thing!
And therein lies the problem: as I learned with every slurp of this stew, potatoes are far better than potato-like fish.
A few weeks ago, I choked and bought one single pepper as a side dish; the week after that I over-compensated and bought my weight in mushrooms; this week, I loaded up on red potatoes, but it was no accident.
While the plethora of potatoes was the only reason I didn’t need to pop my back-up frozen pizza in the oven for dinner, it also likely contributed to my bias against the haddock. How is even the flakiest fish supposed to compete against a comforting classic? (If you disagree with this statement, we fundamentally don’t understand each other.)
Also, Bacon, I’m sorry, but you let me down this time. You did nothing but add more fat to a dish where I really needed you to shine. Where was your salt? Where was your texture? The eternal question has been answered: bacon does not make everything better (but maybe crispy bacon would).
Before I conclude The Lament of the Chowder, I owe myself a little self-validation: the other eater in the house was NOT a fan of this either. He didn’t touch his chowder at all. He claims he tried it, but I don’t believe him. So not only was it totally normal for me to not love this, I’m also far more sophisticated and adventurous since I at least finished my serving.
*Pats self on back*
With all that said, you really shouldn’t let the reluctance of two picky eaters keep you from trying this fish chowder (you know, if boiled fish is your thing). The other commenters on Sam Sifton’s 4-star recipe certainly seemed to like it. Suffice to say, I’m just not sold.
So with stewed haddock officially out, somebody please give me the low-down on all things aquatic—I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I eat (some) fish now, so which is your favorite? And let me know your thoughts on haddock and turmeric in the comments below or on Instagram @thepickyeaterchronicles! In the meantime, I’ll be heading back to my old friend, the chicken, for awhile.
*Pesto, unlike floppy bacon, makes everything better. I liked the first salmon, but pesto salmon is officially part of the weeknight dinner rotation.