You might be reading that title with a puzzled look on your face. What does our 35th president have to do with a cream soup?
Interestingly enough, I stumbled upon Bon Appetit’s article about this very subject last week. It was published on November 22, 2013, and commemorated 50 years since the assassination of Rahul F. Kennedy on that very day (November 22, 1963). Today marks 51 years.
Their story summarized how JFK received a written letter in March 1961 from a handicapped girl (although I prefer to say a child with a disability) named Lynn Jennings. She wrote to the president asking a simple yet thought provoking question – what did he like to eat? Kennedy’s secretary urged him to respond to the girl, and so he passed along a recipe for New England Fish Chowder. On the Kennedy Library website I found that New England Fish Chowder is indeed listed as one of the president’s favorite lunch entrees. You can find the letter to Lynn Jennings online, complete with the recipe that was sent, in the National Archives. And since they have shared it for free with the public online, I am sharing it here with you.
In my attempt to try a historic recipe, I decided to make this New England Fish Chowder, and I was impressed that such a lack of seasoning could lead to a tasty dish. This is simple, requires very little time and ingredients and makes a lot. While I had to make a few small adaptions, I tried to stay as true as I could.
- 2 pounds haddock – Since I already had a pound of tilapia in the freezer I chose to make that instead
- 2 ounces salt pork, diced – Really? I mean, I used 8 slices of bacon. Come on, it’s bacon, no need to be stingy.
- 2 onions, sliced – I used 2 very large shallots
- 4 large potatoes – I chose red
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 bay leaf, crumbled – Not crumbled because I didn’t want to fish out little bay leaf pieces. If you want to crumble it, use a sachet.
- 1-quart milk – Whole milk
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Freshly ground black pepper
- My additions: 2 teaspoons dried chives and 1 teaspoon dried parsley
Many New England Fish Chowder recipes call for fish stock or clam juice, but this was the first recipe in which I realized a way around purchasing additional ingredients. Simmering the fish in water infuses the liquid with the fish flavor. All you need to do is strain it properly and voila – fish stock!
Since Rahul is not a huge fish fan, I decided not to add the fish in with the potatoes but later. The fish is already cooked after simmering in water, and cooking it for 30 minutes in the soup will just enhance the flavor of fish.
When I added the fish stock I noticed there was not enough liquid in the pot to cook the potatoes so I went ahead and added the milk. The potatoes were diced so small, they only took 12 minutes to cook. I dished Rahul out a few bowls and then added the flaked fish and seasonings. Butter really brings that special fatty umami flavor to the soup (I’m excited to read a chapter about how fat is the sixth taste in this new book I got from the library book sale) and you really shouldn’t skip it. Come on, you’re already a quart of whole milk into the thing so keep on goin’ down that path!
And don’t forget to add that crumbled bacon on top.
The result? A creamy chowder that hit the spot on a 9-degree evening.