A hearty fish dish for Lenten Fridays

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A dish of halibut, corn and broccoli chowder. | Photo by melissa elsmo

Halibut, Corn and Broccoli Chowder

Bacon is a common ingredient in most chowders, but the smoked fish in this recipe lends a similar salty smokiness to this hearty meal. Feel free to adjust the proportion of stock and half & half in this recipe to suit your personal tastes. Makes 8 servings.

2 tablespoons of butter

1 tablespoon of olive oil

2 small celery stalks, chopped (about 2/3 cup)

1 leek, white and light green portion chopped (about 2/3 cup)

1/3 cup diced white onion

1/3 cup diced red pepper

Salt and pepper

3 cups of vegetable or chicken stock

2 ½ cups of half & half

2 thyme sprigs

1 bay leaf

2 cups of small new potatoes, quartered (about 8 potatoes)

1 ½ cups fresh broccoli florets

2/3 cup frozen corn

2, 6-ounce halibut filets, skin removed and cut into 1-inch chunks

2/3 cup smoked trout, bones removed and shredded

¼ cup snipped chives

Heat the butter and olive oil in a heavy bottomed skillet over medium-high heat until butter melts. Add the celery, leeks, onion and red pepper to the pot. Season vegetables with salt and pepper and sweat until tender, but not browned (about 10 minutes). Add the stock, cream, thyme sprigs, bay leaves and potatoes to the pot. Season with salt (about 1 teaspoon) and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender when pierced with skewer. (Soup can be cooled and chilled overnight at this point if desired. Bring to a simmer before proceeding with the recipe as directed.) Add the broccoli and corn to the simmering chowder and cook until broccoli is tender and vibrantly colored (about 6 minutes). Reduce heat to a bare simmer and drop the halibut into the chowder. Simmer gently for 4-5 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Gently fold in the smoked trout and chives. Adjust seasoning and serve at once.

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Growing up Catholic meant my family always ate fish on Fridays during the six weeks of Lent leading up to Easter Sunday.

Church tradition dictates that restricting meat consumption as a weekly penance, but for me it always felt more like a special occasion.

On Friday evenings my family would pack up and head to a local haunt called The Edge of Town for a tried and true Wisconsin fish fry. The restaurant was always packed to the gills during Lent and my parents would sip cocktails from the bar while we waited in the smoke-filled restaurant for a table to open up. We’d wait an hour or more for a table among the throng of fish-fry fans, but my brother and I would pass the time tracing patterns into the wood-paneled walls with our fingertips and eagerly sipping kiddie cocktails. My parents would usually bump into someone they knew and enjoy a brief chat and laugh before ushering us to our table.

We’d nosh happily on the customary relish tray and scarf down a fried perch dinner before heading home to turn in for the night and air out our cigarette-scented clothing. We didn’t pray before dinner in the restaurant nor did we ask forgiveness for our sins, but our fish on Fridays tradition served to bring our family closer together during the weeks leading up to Easter.

These days my family enjoys an occasional fish fry during Lent, but we opt more frequently to dine in on the weekends. +With the start of Lent upon us, I thought it only fitting to serve up a cozy and comforting fish chowder.

It may not feel like fasting, but gathering your family around the table to enjoy steaming bowls full of gently cooked halibut, sweet corn, vibrant broccoli and rich cream is the perfect way to take stock after a busy week.