What’s chowder without milk or cream? After reading Mark Kurlansky’s “The Last Fish Tale” I’m happy to say it’s “authentic.” When there was no milk or cream to be had in the Northeastern United States, you used water. So this chowder, cooked for me by lovely people in PEI, was a step up, using margarine and mussel broth from mussels cooked earlier that day with a little red wine and maybe some garlic. You’re not going to miss the cream, because the broth is so salty from the mussel juices, sweet from the carrots and peas, and soft and chewy from the mussels. The quantities in the recipe are my own, but the general idea was that of my group’s hosts.
Dairy-free Mussel Chowder
Steam about 4 lbs of mussels for lunch (to serve 4 people. Don’t let them eat more than half, so make sure you serve them with salads and lots of other things, or you won’t be having chowder for dinner). Make sure you steam them with a little red wine (1/4 cup – 1/2 cup) and some chopped garlic. Take the leftovers (preferably about 2 pounds open mussels) and shuck them, reserving 2 cups of the juice at the bottom of the pot. The trick is the expensive hard-shelled clam (I’m thinking it’s something like geoduck? You have to dig them from the beach) that has a short PEI season and is kept in brine in jars. Not having that, I think you should add a small jar or tin of clams in olive oil or brine.
2 tbsp dairy-free margarine or earth balance
1 medium onion, diced
3 small carrots, diced
1-2 cups leftover mussel juice
1/2 cup sliced preserved clam (see above)
1 cup peas (fresh or frozen. I had some I shelled myself that I bought at the Charlottetown farmers market)
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
2 lbs leftover mussels, cooked as above and shucked (removed from their shells)
Water to cover
Heat the margarine over medium heat and when hot add the onions and carrots. If you have some celery, dice it and toss it in too. Garlic as well. After 5 minutes of slow-cooking and stirring add1 cup of the mussel juice and the rest of the remaining ingredients (start with 4 cups water). You don’t want to add too much water and dilute the broth, and you don’t want to add too much mussel juice and make it too salty. Taste and adjust – more mussel juice for salt and seafood flavour (if it’s bland), but water if it’s too salty, but vegetables if you have them, or more mussels or clams. You can even toss in a few token uncooked mussels and let them open in the hot broth, but only add them once you’ve brought the broth to a boil.
Speaking of which, bring the broth to a boil, and reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the peas are soft. You don’t want to overcook the mussels. They’re already cooked! This is more of a soup than a chowder to most, so add 1 cup of almond milk if you want to make it creamier, instead of (not in addition to) one cup of the water.