I've wanted to make a fish or seafood chowder with fennel ever since Sue, from The view from Great Island, posted her Springtime Salmon and Fennel Chowder. I've mostly had fennel raw in salads, although years ago I used to pull the bulbs apart, stuff them with a mixture of herbs and bread, then bake them with tomato sauce and cheese. Fennel has a delicate anise-like flavour which people seem to either love or hate. I thought it was really quite tasty in this chowder.
Sue mentioned her chowder was best made ahead of time and reheated after the flavours had a chance to mingle. I followed her suggestion and prepared mine in two steps. This is one of the most delicious chowders I've ever made.
I didn't have any on hand, but I think a small splash of Pernod right before serving would have been pretty amazing in this!
3/4 lb raw shrimp (in their shells)
a few ice cubes
1 fennel bulb with stalks (about 1 lb)
2 cups clam juice
1/2 cup white wine
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 small bay leaf
4-5 whole peppercorns
1 tbsp butter or olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped or sliced
2 medium carrots, diced or sliced
1 cob corn, shucked
3/4 lb baby potatoes, cut into bite sized pieces (I used purple for their colour)
2 cups milk (replace part of the milk with half and half or cream, if you prefer a richer soup)
1 tsp sweet paprika
a few pinches cayenne
3/4 lb cod fillet, cut into bite sized pieces
Clean the shrimp by removing their shells and tails and heads if you have those (reserve), then running a knife along the backside to remove the black veins. Place the cleaned shrimp on ice and return them to the refrigerator.
Wash the fennel and cut off the stalks about 1 1/2 inches above the bulb. Set the bulb aside. Pull off the ferny fronds from the stalks and reserve those for garnish. Slice the stalks and place them into a small pot with a lid.
Add the shrimp shells, clam juice, wine, fennel seeds, bay leaf and peppercorns to the pot. Bring the mixture to a light simmer, lower the heat, cover and cook for about an hour.
Slice the fennel bulb into thin slices. Set aside.
Heat the butter or olive oil in a soup pot and add the onion. Cook the onion until it's translucent. Stir in the celery. Cook for a minute or two.
Strain the clam broth into the soup pot with the sauteed onions and celery. Add the sliced fennel bulb, carrots, corn, potatoes, milk, paprika and cayenne. Bring the mixture to a simmer, set the heat to the lowest setting (you don't want it to boil at this point), cover (leaving the lid slightly ajar) and cook for about 45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
Add the cod and stir, then turn off the heat, cover the pot and allow the chowder to cool for several hours or overnight. This gives the flavours a chance to blend.
When you are ready to serve, gently reheat the chowder taking care it doesn't come to a boil. When the chowder has heated up, add the shrimp and cook for 3-5 minutes or until the shrimp are cooked through. Check and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, if needed.
Serve. Garnish with the reserved fennel fronds.