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(French fish chowder)

This classic French fish chowder is not as well known as Bouillabaisse, but it is wonderful--often known as the fisherman's coq au vin. Coming from an inland region of France, it traditionally uses eel or other fresh fish--and either red or white wine. Cognoscenti quibble over names and ingredients, as if soup has the rigid requirements of puff pastry. I say, enjoy whatever version appeals to you--and serve it as a meal to 4-6 lucky people, with boiled potatoes, salad, and French bread on the side.

  • 2-3 strips bacon
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups wine (either a red Burgundy/Cote du Rhone or a dry white Cote du Rhone/French vermouth)
  • 2 cups fish stock or clam juice
  • 2 Tablespoons minced parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • big pinch of black pepper
  • big pinch of allspice
  • 1 pound mushrooms, small or cut to mouthful size
  • 20 small boiling onions, unpeeled and with crosses cut into their roots
  • 2 pounds of freshwater fish (preferably eel, but perch or trout or catfish is great), cut in slabs. Traditionally the slabs include skin and bones, but it's a lot easier to eat fillets. In fact, the popular "catfish nuggets" you find in the market are hard to beat.
Garnish: "Canapes"--little white bread triangles freshly sauteed in butter.

Fry the bacon in a large saucepan. When crisp, remove the bacon and reserve. Add the onion and garlic to the bacon grease and saute until tender. Pour in the wine and the stock, add the parsley, thyme, bay leaf, pepper, and allspice, bring to a simmer and let it cook for 30 to 45 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, prepare the remaining additions. First, put the little onions into a pan of boiling water and cook them for a few minutes. Drain--the peels will come off easily. Melt a couple Tablespoons of butter over a medium high heat in the same pan (water poured out), then add the mushrooms and toss until they are nicely browned. Remove them to a bowl. Add more butter to the pan and throw in the peeled onions, tossing them until they are patchy brown. Add them to the mushrooms. Deglaze the pan with water and pour all that brown goodness into the simmering broth.

When 15 minutes away from serving, bring the soup to a boil and add the fish. Let it boil slowly for 8-10 minutes, until the fish is just done, then remove the fish to a serving tureen and keep warm. Scrape the onions and mushrooms into the broth, turn to a high heat, and boil hard for 5 minutes to reduce the soup and concentrate its flavors. Pour over the soup, garnish with the buttery canapes, and serve immediately.