Saturday, November 17, 2012

Spicy Shrimp Chowder

Coming up with a title for this recipe I found myself asking the question: what is the difference between bisque and chowder?  It turns out that it is all in the chunks.  Bisque are generally pureed or strained for a silky smooth consistency with a  focus on extracting the flavor of the ingredients, while chowder is chunkier like stew. The broth of this soup could easily satisfy if pureed and strained for a bisque-like consistency, but realistically, this is a hearty, soul-warming, cozy up to the fire kind of soup and the chunks just make it all the better.  Why mess with that?

The only inspiration I recall for creating this recipe is that I got hungry for this flavor profile and this is the result of satisfying that craving. Spicy Shrimp Chowder has since become a favorite with the family and guests alike.  I have had other seafood chowders but never one as rich and full-bodied as this one.  The fat content can be adjusted by cutting back on the cream cheese or by using a low fat cream cheese option, alternatively use milk instead of half and half, or really live large and switch it up with heavy cream (which is how I prefer it!)  The dairy adds richness and hides the time-saving use of bouillon, which does not need to be vegetarian; chicken broth makes this soup even better.  This is a great soup to serve a large crowd, cook the vegetables up to the point of adding the half and half to thicken and refrigerate.  Bring the soup back up to heat, and finish the preparation as written. Shrimp can add significant saltiness to any dish, so taste for final seasoning just before serving.

Spicy Shrimp Chowder:

¼ cup butter
½ onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 ribs celery, sliced thin
2 carrots, sliced thin
½ yellow/red pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
Red pepper flakes, pinch
1 pound baby red potatoes, cut into bite sized pieces
Water, enough to cover vegetables
Dried Ancho pepper, whole (optional)
2 cups half and half
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 pound shrimp, medium or larger, deveined and butterflied

Saute onions, garlic, celery, carrots, and peppers in melted butter. Season with cumin, chili pepper, paprika, and red pepper flakes, tossing with the vegetables to toast them before adding the potatoes and water just to cover all vegetables.  Flavor with the bouillon and bring to a slow simmer, cooking until vegetables are tender.  When vegetables are tender, remove the re-hydrated Ancho pepper from the pot, squeezing it to extract as much flavor as possible. 

Wisk the cornstarch into the cold half-and-half, and add the cream cheese cut into cubes; allow to sit at room temperature while the vegetables cook.  Combine with the soup and bring to a simmer, the soup will thicken slightly; continue to stir as the cream cheese melts.  Add the shrimp and cook until shrimp are pink.  Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately with a crusty or cheesy bread.

Serves 4-6 as main course

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