Early in Melville’s Moby Dick, Peter Coffin, proprietor of the Spouter Inn, recommends the Try Pots, an inn known for its chowders and run by Peter Coffin’s cousin Hosea Hussey, as a good place for a meal.
Fishiest of all fishy places was the Try Pots, which well deserved its name; for the pots there were always boiling chowders. Chowder for breakfast, and chowder for dinner, and chowder for supper, till you began to look for fish-bones coming through your clothes. The area before the house was paved with clam-shells. Mrs. Hussey wore a polished necklace of codfish vertebra; and Hosea Hussey had his account books bound in superior old shark-skin. There was a fishy flavor to the milk, too, which I could not at all account for, till one morning happening to take a stroll along the beach among some fishermen’s boats, I saw Hosea’s brindled cow feeding on fish remnants, and marching along the sand with each foot in a cod’s decapitated head, looking very slip-shod, I assure ye.
The description of the cod chowder at the Try Pots has always captivated me. I’m a fan of canned clam chowder and have occasionally had the pleasure of a bowl of clam chowder at Legal Sea Foods next to the Georgia Aquarium – but cod chowder has never made its way to my table.
"Come on, Queequeg," said I, "all right. There’s Mrs. Hussey."
And so it turned out; Mr. Hosea Hussey being from home, but leaving Mrs. Hussey entirely competent to attend to all his affairs. Upon making known our desires for a supper and a bed, Mrs. Hussey, postponing further scolding for the present, ushered us into a little room, and seating us at a table spread with the relics of a recently concluded repast, turned round to us and said—"Clam or Cod?"
"What’s that about Cods, ma’am?" said I, with much politeness.
"Clam or Cod?" she repeated.
"A clam for supper? a cold clam; is THAT what you mean, Mrs. Hussey?" says I, "but that’s a rather cold and clammy reception in the winter time, ain’t it, Mrs. Hussey?"
But being in a great hurry to resume scolding the man in the purple Shirt, who was waiting for it in the entry, and seeming to hear nothing but the word "clam," Mrs. Hussey hurried towards an open door leading to the kitchen, and bawling out "clam for two," disappeared.
"Queequeg," said I, "do you think that we can make out a supper for us both on one clam?"
However, a warm savory steam from the kitchen served to belie the apparently cheerless prospect before us. But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh, sweet friends! hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt. Our appetites being sharpened by the frosty voyage, and in particular, Queequeg seeing his favourite fishing food before him, and the chowder being surpassingly excellent, we despatched it with great expedition: when leaning back a moment and bethinking me of Mrs. Hussey’s clam and cod announcement, I thought I would try a little experiment. Stepping to the kitchen door, I uttered the word "cod" with great emphasis, and resumed my seat. In a few moments the savoury steam came forth again, but with a different flavor, and in good time a fine cod-chowder was placed before us.
We resumed business; and while plying our spoons in the bowl, thinks I to myself, I wonder now if this here has any effect on the head? What’s that stultifying saying about chowder-headed people? "But look, Queequeg, ain’t that a live eel in your bowl? Where’s your harpoon?"
We have a crock pot in our kitchen – a repackaged gift from Christmases past – and I decided to put it to good use this past weekend. The recipe itself was quite simple:
- 1 cup finely chopped onion
- 1 stick butter
- 4 cups diced potato
- 1 can creamed corn
- 1 1/2 lb Cod
- 1 1/2 cup water
- 1 pint half-and-half
- salt, pepper and thyme to taste
- 1 bay leaf
Cook the onion in the butter until it is transparent. Throw chopped onion and liquid butter in the crock-pot along with potatoes, creamed corn, water, cod and spices. Cook on low for 4 1/2 to 5 hours and then add the half-and-half. Cook for another hour.
I served it with some hushpuppies and an upside-down cake for dessert. I have heard that crumbled bacon on top is also tasty. The cod was a bit pricey at around $9 a pound at Kroger, and I imagine that tilapia would make a good replacement – though it wouldn’t fill my literary hunger quite so well.