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Fish, sausage make Midwest chowder

Cleaning my refrigerator’s produce bin last week to make lentil stew, I had potatoes and squash left for the following night’s dinner.

Fortunately, I had plenty of meat and fish in the freezer, which also needed organizing. With both turkey kielbasa and cod fillets on hand, this chowder seemed an obvious choice. As the recipe author confirmed, any white-fleshed fish works in this context.

Because I had tiny potatoes harvested from a friend’s field, I dispensed with peeling them. Instead, I halved them and cooked them only until tender, before the skins started slipping off, which I don’t like in soups.

For the fish stock, I substituted Better Than Bouillon brand’s lobster base, mixed with boiling water. It’s got that extra whiff of brininess that compels me to keep it on hand. To thicken this until it more closely resembled classic clam chowder, I added a few teaspoons of potato starch in a slurry with about 1/2 cup milk.

I also browned the kielbasa slices before adding to the chowder in just the last couple of minutes. That extra caramelization kicks the flavor up a notch and alleviates some of the processed meat texture.

My kids loved this, pronouncing it “really tasty.” For a vegetable, we all had a portion of homemade sauerkraut, a traditional accompaniment to both Polish sausage and potatoes and well-received at this meal.

Tribune News Service photo

Lake Erie Perch Chowder

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large yellow or white onion, peeled and chopped (about 2 cups)

1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold or other waxy potatoes, peeled and diced

1 quart fish or clam stock

1/2 teaspoons freshly chopped marjoram

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 1/2 pounds skinless yellow perch fillets, cut into chunks

6 to 8 ounces Polish kielbasa, sliced

1/4 cup freshly chopped dill or flat-leaf parsley

1 cup sour cream, for garnish

In a Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium heat, melt the butter. When butter stops frothing, add the onions and cook gently until soft and translucent; do not let them brown.

Add the potatoes and stir to coat with butter. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes to let butter absorb a bit. Sprinkle everything with salt. Add the fish stock, 2 cups water and the marjoram; season with salt and pepper. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Once potatoes are tender, add the perch and kielbasa; simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in dill (or parsley). Ladle into bowls and let everyone add the sour cream at the table. Serve with lots of beer and some crusty bread.

Makes 8 servings.

“Recipe from Hook, Line and Supper,” by Hank Shaw (H&H Books, $32.95).