Saturday, July 24, 2010

chowders I have known

A week in Connemara. A week of fresh seafood, especially seafood chowder. You may think that New England has the market cornered in good chowder, but you'd be wrong. The west of Ireland has it all sewn up.

We were miles from the famed Moran's of the Weir in Clarenbridge, or Monks of Ballyvaughan, but the bars and restaurants of the west coast of Galway held their own admirably. Our first foray was up in Verdon's of Letterfrack, after a morning's scuba diving which had us weirdly craving chowder and chips. We sat outside in the summer sunshine, savouring what was the closest thing to a Manhattan chowder we had all week. Tomato-based instead of creamy, our bowls were full of chopped local mussels and generously sprinkled with fresh parsley. The crown bread was fresh and the chips were fresh, not frozen. The brown bread was shop-bought but on the positive side it was McCambridge's. An excellent start.

On the same day, another group of us lunched at Ballynahinch Castle near Clifden. There, the chowder was more of a bisque, a smooth soup with no lumps in, just a handful of fresh mussels in the half-shell. Those who experienced this one had not discovered the joys of dunking freshly-fried chips into a good chowder, so we cannot record here how good Ballynahinch's french fries are.
A cold, blustery day saw us take refuge in Glynsk House for a late lunch. There, the bar menu served up a lovely creamy chowder, with plenty of celery, carrot and tomato, and with more than a hint of turmeric in there, and perhaps the tiniest pinch of curry powder. The use of dill instead of parsley was interesting and fresh. Sadly, Mum (a legendary chips expert) announced that the chips, whilst piping hot, were made from frozen. Marks lost. However the brown bread was served as big fresh scones, obviously home-made. Marks gained.

Glynsk House's sister establishment is Cashel House, a couple of doors away from our holiday home. Our last dinner of the holiday started - of course - with chowder, but despite being a related restaurant it was quite a different bowlful. No turmeric or dill this time, plenty of vegetables, and both white fish and salmon along with mussels. Chips were good and fresh, but no brown bread, just a white dinner roll.

Tigh Chathain in Cill Chiarain served us up a fish chowder - not a mussel in sight. Creamy white and laden with white fish, smoked fish and salmon, it was accompanied by generous basketfuls of fresh pasta dura and white soda bread. Chips excellent, fresh and chunky. And all washed down with an entertaining and informative chat with the barman about the day de Valera unveiled the sculpture of Padraig O Conaire in Eyre Square in Galway.

So, finally we come to our final chowder, in the Galleon Grill in Salthill on our way home. This one was almost white it was so creamy, but it didn't tasty as rich and creamy as expected. Mostly white fish and salmon, with the odd shrimp and scallop. It could have done with a little more salt but that's not a complaint, as often soups and chowders can be overly salty. Fresh brown bread scones and proper fresh chips. Marvellous.

All of which prompted me to try my own very first chowder today, just to help me re-integrate into Australian society. A decent potato soup made with fish stock, plenty of shrimp, chopped calamari, mussels, white fish and smoked cod. I did a Glynsk House on it and chucked some turmeric in there too, with plenty of chopped parsley. I simmered the pot for a couple of hours and baked some of my own Irish brown bread scones, and if I say so myself it was a bit of a triumph.

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