The Block Island Times

Two chowder cook-offs:  sampling Block Island's best

By Becky and Mike Ballard | May 22, 2012
There are plenty of chowders in the world, especially in New England. If you want to know the best of the lot you’ll have several chances to taste and test very soon. Two cook-offs are coming up that will provide venues for many of our island chowder cooks to show off their culinary skills.
On the calendar, the first cook-off will be on the Sunday (May 27, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.) of Memorial Day weekend. Hosted as a fundraiser by the Block Island Maritime Institute (BIMI), the event held at Smuggler’s Cove in New Harbor will offer a variety of chowders — New England, Manhattan, Rhode Island (clear) and a fourth wide-open category called “Other.” Prizes including “Best Overall” will be awarded for all types for both restaurants and individuals. Island favorites Carol and Audrey or “Two of Hearts” will be back to provide music. Contact Bruce Johnson at “” for information.
The following weekend, the Fourth Annual Taste of Block Island will include a chowder competition as one of its events under a big tent in the Old Harbor on June 3, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. A number of island restaurants will offer samples of their best New England clam chowders. Also Chris Warfel will be shucking and serving plenty of his Block Island farm-grown oysters. (Call Kathy Szabo at 466-8938 at the Block Island Chamber of Commerce for more information.)
The three accompanying recipes are for some not-your-basic chowders. All typically include cream or milk, a chicken or clam stock, and two of them have potatoes. Most chowders are very filling, more on the thick side and are complete meals in themselves. There are chunks of fried salt pork in the Haddock Chowder that remind us of classic old New England recipes.
Oyster crackers or various kinds of crunchy biscuits are frequently served with a chowder. Try these Salt and Pepper Breadsticks for something a little different. The kids will love rolling them out to make “worms.” Just go easy when you sprinkle on the salt and pepper.
What is a chowder and how does it differ from a soup? Everyone has an opinion, but there is a fine line between the two. Basically we all simply just know — whether we can define it or not. So come titillate your palate at these fun events, support a worthy cause and cast your vote for your favorites.



Celery and Oyster Chowder
¾ stick butter
6 cups coarsely chopped celery
1 cup coarsely chopped leek
1 teaspoon celery seed
6 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
1 cup heavy cream
Salt to taste
32 oysters, shucked, and liquid
Cayenne pepper
Celery leaves for garnish
Melt butter in a heavy saucepan, stir in celery and leek, and cook until soft (about 10 minutes). Stir in celery seed, chicken stock and water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes. Puree the mixture through a food mill into a sauce pan. (Discard remaining pulp.) Bring liquid just to to a simmer and stir in cream. Taste and add salt, if needed. Add oysters and their liquid, and heat just until edges of oysters curl. Ladle hot chowder into heated bowls. Sprinkle with a little cayenne pepper and garnish with celery leaves.
Serves 8.
Lobster Corn Chowder
2 one-pound lobsters, cooked, cleaned and cut into large pieces
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
4 ounces bacon, diced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions, chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
1 pound white potatoes, peeled and diced
Kernels from 4 ears of cooked corn
4 cups clam juice
1 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh chives or parsley for garnish
In a heavy soup pot, fry bacon until crisp. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat, leaving bacon in pot. Add butter, onion and thyme. Cook 8 to 10 minutes until onions are tender. Stir in paprika. Add tomatoes, corn and enough stock to cover. Increase heat and boil chowder 15 to 20 minutes until potatoes are just tender. Remove from heat. Stir in lobster and heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper. Serve in warmed bowls with parsley or chives as garnish.
Makes 4 main-course servings.
Fish Chowder
½ pound salt pork, cut into small pieces
2 onions, finely chopped
3 cups clam juice
3 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut in cubes
Freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 pounds haddock or cod cut into fillets
6 sprigs fresh parsley
4 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons butter
Fresh dill weed, chopped
In a large saucepan, cook salt pork over low heat until crisp. Transfer to a paper towel. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat, add onions and cook over low heat until transparent. Add clam juice, potatoes and pepper. Simmer 15 minutes until potatoes are tender. Add the fish and cook an additional 5 minutes. Add milk and butter and reheat. Break up fish with a fork. Serve in heated bowls sprinkled with dill.
Serves 6.
Salt and Pepper Breadsticks
¼ cup rye flour
¼ cup, plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt, plus more for sprinkling
¼ cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 teaspoon butter, melted and cooled
1 egg white, beaten with 1 teaspoon water for egg wash
Ground black pepper for sprinkling
Parchment paper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Measure into a mixing bowl: the flours, baking powder, baking soda and the ¼ teaspoon salt. Whisk to blend. Stir in buttermilk and butter with a fork until dough begins to stick together and form a ball. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and gently knead 5 or 6 times.
Shape dough into a log and cut into 16 equal pieces. Roll each piece into 10-inch long sticks (“Worms!”). (If dough sticks, lightly flour work surface.) Arrange sticks 1 inch apart on prepared sheet.
Brush breadsticks with egg wash, and sprinkle lightly with Kosher salt and ground pepper.
Bake, turning sheet around half way through baking, until golden and crisp, 17 to 20 minutes total. Transfer to racks to cool.
Makes 16 breadsticks.
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