From time to time, usually after a particularly satisfying meal, my Koji will look at me lovingly across the dining room table, hold my hand and tell me that 40% of the reason he married me was because of my cooking skills.
He’s joking, for the most part.
(I am also intelligent, stunning to look at and excellent *ahem* conversation).
When I was younger, I loved going out to restaurants with my mum.
She had this uncanny knack for being able to taste a dish and pick out the ingredients. The spices. The cooking techniques. It was a helpful skill for a family on a tight budget. She’d pay close attention to the dishes we liked and then go home and have a think about them when preparing the week’s meals.
If we were lucky. If she had the time and energy after a long day of chasing us (and assorted other children) around the house. After finishing her studies and cleaning and making sure we were doing our homework, she’d pause before pulling out the pots to cook our evening meal.
My father’s favourite dishes always made the table. And when I moved out of home, I’d return once or twice (or four times) a week to a rotating buffet of my favourite dishes.
It’s her way of showing she notices, and that she cares.
I’ve been in and out recently, much to the disgruntlement of my darling Koji.
“When are you coming home?” he asked, two days into a five night trip to Auckland.
“Soon,” I replied.
“Not soon enough.” he would moan.
We had a day off, on the second day in, and after a long boat ride to Waiheke Island and a bus around and across and through the middle, we were half way to blown away by the crisp air and gusty breezes. The restaurants were plentiful and the wineries tempting, but the 5am wake up calls of the previous mornings had us craving something a bit more comforting.
Something smooth and warm and briny and sweet.
We ate our chowder from recyclable paper bowls, looking out onto the water, and wished we had some bread to dunk in it.
It was thick with potato, smattered with bits and pieces of seafood and warmed us from the inside out.
This Winter chill is starting to wear thin.
My bones are creaking a little too much for an almost-thirty-year-old and my stomach is heavy from the stodge that usually accompanies the cold.
But seafood sits easily on the belly and a brothier, less starchy, less creamy, less potato-ey chowder means a more comfortable night’s sleep. For me anyway.
We ate a little too much each last night and Koji had an extra portion for lunch today, sealed in a microwaveable container with a hunk of bread and a little zip lock baggie of chopped parsley.
Because like my mum, I’ve learnt that sometimes the best way to show you care isn’t through what comes out of your mouth, but what you put into others’.
- 1 salmon skeleton (or about 300g fish bones)
- 1.5 L water
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ bunch parsley
- 100g streaky bacon or speck
- 1 onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 8 tiny potatoes (or 2 regular sized ones)
- 30g butter
- ¼ tsp smokey paprika
- ⅓ C pearl barley (rinsed)
- 400g mixed seafood (I had mussels, fish, prawns and calamari in mine)
- ¾ C thickened cream
- ¾ C milk
- salt & pepper
- Wash your fish bones well under cold, running water. If you have a whole skeleton, chop it into three parts and put it in a pot with 1.5L of water and two bay leaves.
- Pick the leaves off the parsley and then throw the stems (not leaves) into the pot as well.
- Bring the liquid in the pot to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the bones and leaves out and you have some lovely, lightly flavoured fish stock.
- Meanwhile, cut your streaky bacon or speck into thin batons, DIce your onion and crush and mince your garlic. Slice the potatoes into rounds (if you have small ones) or into cubes about 2cm wide if you're using normal sized potatoes.
- Place another pot on a medium heat and put the speck or bacon in, stirring every now and then so it doesn't get stuck. When the fat has started to render off and you can smell delicious bacon smells, add the onions, garlic, potatoes, butter, paprika and pearl barley.
- Sautee them all together over a medium heat until the onion is translucent. Try to keep it all moving so the potatoes don't stick to the bottom of the pot.
- Now add 750ml of stock and bring the heat down to a very light simmer. Leave the pot on a simmer for about 10 minutes so that the potatoes and barley get a chance to cook.
- Add the seafood mix, cream and milk and return the liquid to a mild simmer, stirring every now and then and cooking for another 10 minutes so that the seafood is poached lightly in the creamy stock.
- Have a taste and then add plenty of salt and pepper. You can serve it straight away with chopped parsley on top, or leave it for a while (without parsley) to cool and allow the flavours to meld together, then reheat gently prior to eating.