It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada and this year I’m playing it low low key. However, I know I’m very much the oddity. Most of you (well, the Canadian yous) are probably defrosting a turkey in your sink, stocking up on pumpkin puree, and clinging to your sanity amidst the holiday preparations. You probably don’t need me being all smug about my plans to drink cocktails in my pajamas. So, instead, let me move onto to something more useful to you, like this Mushroom Wild Rice Chowder with Crispy Fried Leeks.
If I had a mess of people coming round to my place this weekend, this Mushroom Wild Rice Chowder is how I would start things off. It may feel a little old school to serve soup as a starter but I say go with the classic vibe. I feel like somewhere along the way, salads dethroned soup as THE first-course option. Gazpacho and other chilled soups have made some kind of a comeback, but they’re pretty much pureed salads. So, I’m not sure if you can count that as a victory for soupkind.
I guess soup is sort of a casualty of the healthy lifestyle movement, which in some respects, is kind of hilarious. Some salads (i.e. my favorite salads) can pack a mean caloric punch, but I get it. A salad is more refreshing, it takes up less valuable stomach space, and it does make you feel somewhat virtuous while you’re eating it. The thing is, I don’t want the bisque starter to go the way of the Dodo.
This hypothesis on the declining state of “soup as starter” is purely based on a feeling. Not trying to brag. but I read a lot of menus and most starter sections are populated with fried finger foods, salads, and charcuterie. So, I’ve discerned from my super serious research that soup is not so much a focus at this point. There is nothing scientific happening here. I have no statistics for you. Move along.
Today’s soup is a riff on my grandmother’s fish chowder – a.k.a. my preferred last meal. But my boyfriend and I have a difference of opinion when it comes to the deliciousness of seafood. So, to spare myself the hardship of plowing my way through an entire batch of fish chowder and the subsequent, inevitable shame spiral, I decided to make this soup with landlubbers in mind.
My grandmother’s fish chowder was one of the first things I ever learned to make. We made it together a lot. Thankfully, when she passed away some ten years ago, I had the recipe completely committed to memory. There are literally moments in my life when I ache for this chowder, especially when it starts to get cold.
For today’s Mushroom Wild Rice Chowder, I ditched my beloved lobster pate, clam juice and seafood favorites in favor of a dried mushroom stock, nutty grains for wild rice and leeks. It’s not quite as good as my seafood-heavy childhood favorite, but hey, the things we do for love. I may also be experiencing a slight case of nostalgia-based bias.
This Mushroom Wild Rice Chowder is not a thick soup. I know many people live for the creaminess factor when it comes to chowder. But I think you’ll make an exception for this lighter weight soup. It’s made with evaporated milk so it has the hint of sweetness and a richness beyond what its texture would suggest. My grandmother made all of her chowders this way. I had no idea it wasn’t the norm until I was old enough to eat in restaurants with some regularity. I’ve never encountered another chowder like hers.
So, there you have it. A piece of my childhood updated to suit my present. I will post the fish version sometime soon, but for now, enjoy this Mushroom Wild Rice Chowder. It tastes just like fall.
Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!
- 2 (14 g) packages dried mixed mushrooms
- 2 cups warm water
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 leeks
- 1 sweet onion, diced
- 2 carrots, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and sliced
- 2 celery stalks, halved lengthwise and sliced
- 1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 cup dried wild rice
- 1/4 cup dry vermouth
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 2 (354 mL) can evaporated milk
- 1/2 cup 2% milk
- Place dried mushrooms in a medium-sized bowl and cover with warm water. Set aside to steep for 20 minutes. Once the time has elapsed, drain the mushrooms reserving the steeping liquid. Set both the mushrooms and the liquid aside.
- Slice the white and light green parts of the leeks. Discard the ends. Place the slices in a bowl of cold water and agitate them with a clean hand to extract any dirt. Drain the leeks.
- In a large heavy-bottom pot, melt the butter over medium heat until foamy. Add the leeks, reserving 1/2 cup for later use, followed by a healthy sprinkling of salt. Sweat the leeks over medium-low heat until softened. About 5 minutes.
- Add the onions and saute until transparent. Next, add the carrots and celery and saute until slightly softened.
- Add the thyme and wild rice to pot and saute until the rice begins to crackle.
- Pour in the vermouth and, using a spoon, scrape and brown bits from the bottom of the pot.
- Stir in the vegetables stock, the reserved mushroom steeping liquid, the mushrooms and a healthy pinch of salt. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Let cook for 45 minutes or until the rice is just tender.
- Add the evaporated milk and simmer the soup for another 10 minutes. Take the soup off of the heat and stir in the 2% milk. Taste and season with salt. Let stand for 10 minutes to cool slightly.
- While the soup is cooling, heat 1/2-inch of canola oil in a small skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the reserved leeks and fry until crispy and browned slightly.
- Transfer the leeks to a plate lined with paper towel to drain. Sprinkle with kosher salt.
- Serve the soup garnished with the fried leeks and a tea biscuit or two.