The equivalent of 1/6 of a whaling voyage has passed since I wrote my last entry on Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, or, the Whale. That’s 8 whole months to those who aren’t paying attention. In that time I’ve been dealing with some minor leviathans of my own, a few pilot whales perhaps, and one sperm whale. I’ve been fired from a job I hated by a man who rivaled Ahab himself for megalomania, hired short-term at a job I loved, moved away from San Francisco, city of my heart, and embarked on a trip of indefinite length and nebulous itinerary to South America. Like I said, there have been some developments of leviathan proportions this year. But, here at the furthest culmination of all that excitement, sitting in a room on San Cristobal Island, in the Galápagos, where I’m staying for free in exchange for working (barely) at the hotel, it is comforting to think back to the first day of 2014, when I took on the semi-daunting task of cooking two different kinds of chowder.
If you haven’t read Moby-Dick before, just know that, of all food-related scenes in literature, the 15th chapter of this novel is one that has always stuck with me. Maybe you’ll agree:
[Mrs. Hussey] ushered us into a little room, and seating us at a table spread with the relics of a recently concluded repast, turned round to us and said- “Clam or Cod?”
“What’s that about Cods, ma’am?” said I, with much politeness.
“Clam or Cod?” she repeated.
“A clam for supper? a cold clam; is that what you mean, Mrs. Hussey?” says I, “but that’s a rather cold and clammy reception in the winter time, ain’t it, Mrs. Hussey?”
But being in a great hurry to resume scolding the man in the purple shirt who was waiting for it in the entry, and seeming to hear nothing but the word “clam”, Mrs. Hussey hurried towards an open door leading to the kitchen, and bawling out “clam for two”, disappeared.
“Queequeg,” said I, “do you think that we can make a supper for us both on one clam?”
However, a warm savory steam from the kitchen served to belie the apparently cheerless prospect before us. But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh! sweet friends, hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits, and salted pork cut up into little flakes! the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt. Our appetites being sharpened by the frosty voyage, and in particular, Queequeg seeing his favourite fishing food before him, and the chowder being surpassingly excellent, we despatched it with great expedition…
Now if that’s not the kind of writing that makes you feel like you’re sitting right there on that bench between Ishmael and Queequeg, trying to shake off the chill by getting a warm meal of delicious chowder, I don’t know what is. In my attempt to stave off the not nearly comparable (to New England) winter chill of San Francisco, I looked up a recipe for clam chowder on my go-to, TasteSpotting, and found the perfect recipe on the blog Inspiration Kitchen. With my chef roommate and a New Year’s Day hangover in tow, I drove all over San Francisco looking for the ingredients. Once I’d found everything I needed, we headed back home, pulled out my big stockpot usually used for storing baking supplies, and set to work. Several hours later, I served the finished product to my famished and equally hungover friends, along with a Porter from the local Anchor Steam brewery. I was very pleased with the results as I had been a little worried by the amount of clam juice called for in the recipe which, in spite of the fact that it is clam chowder, seemed exorbitant. It was the perfect meal on a day when it was cozy within and dreary without, and the chowder was well-received and vivifying, as I hoped it would be.
I love soups. All soups. In fact, I can’t think of a soup I’ve ever run into that I didn’t like, including my recent encounter with some kind of chicken-based soup with very questionable looking pieces of what may or may not have been stomach lining. Tasty. I also love to make soups, but they can definitely be labor-intensive, especially, I found, chowders. But I wasn’t happy with just one chowder. I had to make two, simultaneously, and in my tiny kitchen, that was no small feat. But I couldn’t not make the fish chowder, not when it comes from such a great scene.
… when leaning back a moment and bethinking me of Mrs. Hussey’s clam and cod announcement, I thought I would try a little experiment. Stepping to the kitchen door, I uttered the word “cod” with great emphasis, and resumed my seat. In a few moments the savoury steam came forth again, but with a different flavor, and in good time a fine cod-chowder was placed before us.
We resumed business; and while plying our spoons in the bowl, thinks I to myself, I wonder now if this here has any effect on the head? What’s the stultifying saying about chowder-headed people? “But look, Queequeg, ain’t that a live eel in your bowl? Where’s your harpoon?”
Fishiest of all fishy places was the Try Pots, which well deserved its name; for the pots there were always boiling chowders. Chowder for breakfast, and chowder for dinner, and chowder for supper, till you began to look for fish-bones coming through your clothes.
I used, of course, cod for this chowder, and paired it with Drake’s Drakonic Imperial Stout. Unfortunately, I was not as happy with this chowder as it was neither as thick nor as tasteful as I had hoped. It could also have been that we ate this one after the flavor-packed clam chowder and so it seemed lackluster in comparison, but in any case, the clam chowder definitely took the prize. I think Ishmael, Queequeg, and Mrs. Hussey would have applauded my effort, if not wholeheartedly my results. If the latter were around, I would definitely ask her for a few pointers.
Ultimately, I very much enjoyed making these chowders that are so lauded in Moby-Dick. Perhaps the making of hearty, hangover-relieving soups needs to become a New Year’s Day tradition.
Next up: One Hundred Years of Solitude (or Cien años de soledad since I read it in Spanish!) by Gabriel García Márquez. Thanks for staying tuned!