Even now I don’t consider myself somebody who likes to eat fish.
Growing up I rarely ate fish, and when I did, it was undoubtedly “fishy.” Although I’ve caught, killed, prepared, and eaten my fair share of delicious fish– bluegills, trout, and most recently sucker– I still don’t think of myself as a fish lover. I still have a knee-jerk aversion to anything but deep fried fish, but it’s all in my head; When I cook fresh fish it’s usually delicious!
I’m not sure how this all can exist in my mind at the same time, especially considering how much I enjoy eating the fish I catch and keep.
Two things I never thought I’d cook are fish balls and fish chowder– and yet I made both in the past seven days. The fish balls were delicious and the smoked sucker chowder was even better.
The large sucker I caught last week became a ziplock-bag-full of smoked fish and I’ve been trying to find good uses for it. After all, what better way to show the animal respect than make it as delicious as possible?
A few years ago I finally learned how to make a roux– a thickener made with fat and flour, used in everything from gumbo to gravy to stew to chowder. I used to be intimidated by it, but in reality making a roux very simple:
- Heat up some fat (lard, oil, butter, chicken fat, etc) over medium heat
- Toss in some flour
- It will sizzle a lot! Stir a lot to prevent burning and sticking
- Cook the flour until it smells like a freshly baked pie. The more you cook, the darker the color. The darker the color, the more flavor and less thickening power: It’s a tradeoff.
- Add liquid. This liquid can be stock, broth, or in the case of chowder, milk.
- Stir stir stir, and watch the magnificent thickening power of the roux
- Keep adding liquid until you have the thickness you need
This is the traditional way to make gravy: once you’ve cooked your meat, put the meat somewhere to rest, then add flour to the hot fat and make a roux. Add stock/broth, and there you go: homemade gravy from scratch.
It’s not hard. Like most things, it just takes some practice and confidence.
I made a roux with olive oil, half a stick of butter, and a cup of flour. I added diced onions, then cold milk. To the milk I added some cute little red potatoes and seasonings, and let everything cook over very low heat. Later I added celery and more seasonings. At the last second the sucker went in.
Although it’s a very simple recipe, the smoked sucker adds a tremendous burst of flavor. Lots of chowders use bacon (creamy potatoes and smoked things? Yes please) and here the sucker serves that purpose. You could certainly make this recipe with other fish, but it would probably be bland unless the fish were smoked. The blast of smoky flavor is key– it really brings everything together.
An extremely easy and satisfying dish, especially on a blustery spring day like yesterday. Also a good dish to use bits and pieces of fish that didn’t make it into the deep fryer.
If you catch a lot of fish, you owe it to yourself to learn how to make chowder.
Smoked Sucker Chowder
- Some smoked sucker
- Seasoning (salt, pepper, thyme, etc)
- Olive oil
- Make a roux
- Add onions, cook for a while
- Add seasoning and potatoes, cook that for a while too
- While the potatoes are getting tender, grab your smoked sucker and try to remove all those little pesky bones. It’s much easier to do with cooked sucker. Try not to eat all the smoked fish before it goes in the pot. You’ve been warned: Smoked sucker is tasty
- Add some diced celery to the pot. I like my celery to have some crunch.
- When the chowder smells good, looks good, and tastes good, add the smoked sucker and turn off the heat. The fish is already cooked: You just want to reheat it
- Serve immediately in a big bowl with crusty bread. Still-warm freshly-baked bread suggested (also very easy to make)