Scallops are often pricy, but bay scallops right now are a bargain. I got a pound of the critters without shells for just under four dollars. At that price, I'm making chowder out of them.
The most important thing about a seafood chowder is the bacon. What you look for from the bacon is both the exuded fat and the smoky salty flavor of the bacon itself. Without it, the chowder lacks depth and body. With it - divinity.
This is a problem for a fish eating vegetarian type like me, but I've found a good solution using fake bacon made from tempeh. Sauteeing the bacon in olive oil provides the fat, the smoke, and the salt you would ordinarily get from a hunk of pig bacon. You can use real bacon if you wish, but reduce the amount of oil called for by the amount of fat the bacon releases when sauteed.
It's classic to begin a soup like this with court bouillon, a mix of carrots, celery, and onions with herbs. I used parsnips instead of the carrots you usually find in a court bouillon to mix the flavors up a little. Oh all right, I had parsnips already and no carrots in the house, and it was cold enough outside in Chicago today that I wasn't going back outside to the store for anything.
You'll get soup for four and plenty of leftovers with this recipe. One caution - my wife had one bowl of this chowder and despite wanting more, was full. I toughed it out and had seconds.
1 lb. bay scallops (the little ones - about 40/lb)
2 parsnips, peeled, cut to 1/4" dice
1 onion, cut to 1/4" dice
3 celery stalks cut to 1/4" dice
2 lbs. potatoes, peeled, cut to 1-2" chunks
3 strips fake bacon (preferably tempeh), cut to small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
4 oz. (small) can of corn - drained
2 teaspoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup water
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups vegetable stock
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups skim milk
1 cup cream
salt and pepper (preferably white pepper)
When you peel and cut the parsnips and potatoes, have a bowl of water with a little vinegar or lemon juice in it to keep the peeled vegetables from turning brown.
In a large soup pot over medium heat, sautee the bacon in the olive oil until the smell wafts up from the pot. Add the parsnips, celery, onions, and garlic and mix well, coating with oil and mixing in bacon. Add a big pinch of kosher salt and sautee for 5 minutes or so, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. Add flour and stir until flour is absorbed.
Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan as you mix it in with a wooden spoon. Add stock and potatoes and simmer.
Dissolve cornstarch in the cup of cold water. Make sure the cornstarch is thoroughly dissolved then add to the soup and stir in.
In a separate pan, scald the milk and add it to the soup. Simmer soup until the potatoes are suitably soft, about 10-15 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Careful with the white pepper - you'll need less of it than you would of black pepper.
Add the scallops, cream, and corn and simmer for another 5-7 minutes until the scallops are cooked - their flesh will become more opaque. You can add more corn if you'd like.
Serve with oyster crackers and a nice slightly sweet white wine like a French Columbard. Finish with a dish of butter pecan ice cream. Then go to the gym and run ten miles...