Validating my cookbook collection, one damn recipe at at a time

19: Scrappy Fish Chowder — The Red Rooster Cookbook

19: Scrappy Fish Chowder — The Red Rooster Cookbook

Perfectionism is a bitch. And this blog is doing a lot in helping me to break up with her.

There’s a quote often credited to Sheryl Sandberg — yes, the Facebook “Lean In” woman — that “done is better than perfect.”

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d really love it if everything I did was perfect. If everything I attempted turned out perfectly; if everything I wrote was the perfect length and the perfect tone and perfectly informative and entertaining. But if I sat around waiting to post until I got each recipe perfect and I had the perfect thing to say about it, I’d have no blog. I probably wouldn’t even cook anything.

Today’s recipe turned out well. It didn’t turn out perfect. But it’s still reeeeeally good. So let’s chat.

The Assignment: Scrappy Fish Chowder from The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem by Marcus Samuelsson

Y’all, I’m one of those weirdos who likes to read cookbooks — really sit down and absorb the front-of-book material, the intros, the bits of personality that the chef builds into the book. And when I got this book for Christmas a few years back, I was glued to it. This book is PACKED with info beyond recipes, from history lessons to kitchen playlists. Marcus Samuelsson is a a brilliant cook, a fascinating person, and just a really smart and engaging writer. This book is equal part heart, guts, and brains.

“You STILL didn’t cook anything from it ’til now???”

Nope. Sometimes, a cookbook is so good, you just don’t know where to start.

So you don’t.

The Recipe (from the book, which you should buy):

Things to Note About the Recipe:

I TRIED, y’all. I tried to stick exactly to what the recipe said. I also wanted to switch the recipe out for something with simpler ingredients, but I went NOPE, JUST DO IT. I came up against resistance upon heading to a store for one special ingredient, and marched myself over to my car, singing “dooooo what Marcus Samuelsson tells you,” because sometimes singing orders to myself is the only thing that works. AND IT STILL WENT MILDLY SIDEWAYS.

  • First and foremost, let’s talk about mussels. Mussels should always be tightly closed when you buy them, as a sign that they are alive, fresh, and healthy. I know this. I’ve known this for years. But since it had been years since the last time I bought them, paired with my being a bit tired and distracted, I didn’t think about that when I was buying them. Bunch of mussels buried under ice; I dug some out, slung ’em into a bag, and went on my merry way, not noting the fact that, like, ALL of them were open. So the mussels were dead, likely from being frozen, and the big problem there is not knowing how long they’ve BEEN dead. Also, scrubbing and de-bearding open mussels seems extra awkward. Might they have been OK? Maybe. Might they have given me food poisoning and ruined my giant pot of soup? Also maybe. Once I realized what I’d done, I decided it was worth it to take the L and not take the risk. (Plus, the pot was really full already, which segues well into…)
  • This makes a LOT of soup. The recipe says it serves 6 to 8 people. Even if you’re dividing this into 8, those are big servings. The recipe also doesn’t call for an exceptionally large stock pot or anything, just a large pot. I used my biggest soup pot, and if I’d added mussels, it would have been a REALLY tight squeeze.
  • It’s just fine without the mussels and still has tons of flavor. If you want more panache in your presentation, though, you def want them there aesthetically. There’s also a super-cheffy version of this where it gets presented with lobster and grilled shrimp added. In a video version, Samuelsson also adds salmon and a number of other unlisted ingredients. The point is that you can dress it up or down, but the soup is the thing.
  • For the fish scraps, I used Trader Joe’s frozen cod pieces. Yah. That’s how they’re labeled. Cod pieces. Heh. Typically a super cost-effective deal too.
  • Shout out to the clam juice! I was skeptical of it, but it really does contribute so nicely to the overall seafoodiness of the soup base in a way that’s not at all over the top, funky, or overpowering. I’m a convert. (Also, I nearly did something very stupid in my attempt to get a bottle of clam juice from the top shelf at the grocery store, and instead, I asked a stranger for help. This may be my biggest win of the week. #personalgrowth)
  • The mayo recipe is listed before the soup, but, like, dude, don’t make that first. You have a whole hour while the soup is simmering to make the mayo.
  • When it comes to making mayo, I don’t go the “pour a slow steady stream of oil” route. Mostly because I don’t trust myself not to mess it up, but also because Kenji López-Alt has an impossibly easy foolproof method that I will never stray from. I use this technique, an immersion blender, and a tall 4-cup measuring cup to blend it in. (I used the cup that came with my immersion blender ’til it cracked.) Just follow his instructions if you have an immersion blender (and you should, because they’re the best) for this mayo.
  • Though it not be said, salt the mayo to taste.
  • Yes, you really should make the mayo. I doubted it too, but it really is the final flavor element that brings it all together with that nice slice of toast. But also, there will be way more of it than this recipe requires. I’m also pretty sure it’ll keep for longer than 3 days. It’s fine without it, but AMAZING with it.
  • If you want really great bread in the Los Angeles area, you can order home-baked loaves weekly from Love & Archery in North Hollywood. (Amber also teaches classes now and then, and I’m planning to take her next one if I can swing it.)

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THE VERDICT

How did it taste?
Really damn good. I let the soup hang overnight before I had a bowl of it with the toast and mayo, and the flavors had developed nicely, like any good stew. It’s got a little kick in the back of the throat from the jalapeños and ginger, which is gorgeous. It’s hearty, warming, but not in a too-heavy way hat we can see from a lot of chowders. And the garlicky, salty, fatty tang from the mayo on the toast REALLY is the chef’s kiss on this whole thing. *stops self from launching into the importance of a salt-fat-acid balance; Samin’s said it all and better.*

Would I make it again?
I would. I would probably make it when I had a lot of people to feed because Y’ALL I have a lot of this soup! And I would make sure my mussels were on point first, and maybe get a couple different kinds of fish to throw in, but sure.

Do I recommend this book?
Hell yes. Again, this one isn’t gonna be great for a novice or for anyone easily intimidated by cookbooks. Heck, I was intimidated off it for a couple years. But it’s a terrific book that’s SO well written and lovingly composed.

What’s the next recipe I want to make from this book?
I have been fascinated by the Bird Funk and Chicken Liver Butter recipe in this thing since I first read it. It may not be the very next one I attempt, but at some point, I’m gonna give it a go.

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“Fatty tang?”
You heard me.

Another damn recipe done. The weather in Southern California has been so cool and rainy that it just occurred to me — it could get hot again literally any day now, and if I have any tricky baking projects on my list, I should do them sooner than later. Which is terrifying, because I know that means I should attempt one of the hardest recipes in my lineup, which I was ideally saving for last, as soon as possible. Hoo boy



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