It's officially autumn. The air smells of smoke, it's dark when I get up to go to work, and I know the clocks go back sometime soon and really should find out exactly when. The onset of cold weather makes me feel I should be about to go into hibernation (eat yourself silly then sleep it off for six months? Yes please!), but failing that comfort food seems to be the next best option to ward off the gloom of shortening days.
Although there are exceptions I think comfort food falls into three categories: food that you ate as a child - for me this is macaroni cheese and rice pudding; most warm food you eat from a bowl with a spoon, such as soup or stew, and food that is so sweet or fatty you it is clearly intended to provide an emotional rather that nutritional boost - chocolate brownies and ice cream, cheesy mashed potatoes.
Chowder falls into the second category, although I did eat eat is as a child it was never with much enthusiasm. When I was living in Brussels I found most supermarkets sold very thin slices of smoked haddock which prompted me to try and make variation on the chowder my Mum used make, which was mostly white fish, leek, potato and corn. Perhaps it was the tinned sweetcorn, which I never really liked, that used to put me off.
I developed my own version using lardons, leek and potato fried until the potato began to soften then added the haddock, covered with milk and simmered very gently until it turned opaque. Lots of parsley was essential. I made this when my parents came to visit me one weekend and I wanted to show off how domesticated I was capable of being. Chowder seems like something a brisk, sensible, sober housewife would make. I am not that, but at least I can make chowder.
Butter, plenty One large leek One large floury potato One carrot One skinned smoked haddock fillet, around 200g Enough milk to cover, about 300ml A bay leaf or two Small bunch of parsley
Cut the leek into finger-wide slices, and rinse if they're gritty. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed pan -I used my old faithful Le Creuset I found at a second hand shop - stir in the leeks and leave on a very low heat while you peel the potato and carrot and cut into small cubes. Add these to the leeks and cook, covered for about ten minutes until the potato has started to soften around the edges, although it will still be hard in the middle. Add more butter and/or a splash of water if it begins to stick.
Add the haddock, cut into bite sized pieces, and the bay leaves to the vegetables, then pour over over enough milk to just cover. Simmer over a low heat until the fish begins to flake. Sprinkle with roughly chopped parsley, and eat with buttered bread.