Chowderhead

The New York Times recipe that unmanned me, and also turned me into a man.

By Jack Hitt

Messy kitchen. Click image to expand.I became a man, one might argue, the night I was completely un­manned by a cup of celery leaves. On a frigid night, Lisa, the woman who had just agreed to be my wife, and I were trying out our first house in New Haven, Conn. She’d recently been admitted to medical school and had hit the books on a cold afternoon for a six-hour study jag. I had built a fire and snapped open the paper to stumble upon one of those overwrought New York Times food columns: "Curried Red Snapper Chowder." Every one of those words suddenly read delicious.

The writer extolled the virtues of this midwinter dish with the romantic-etymology move: "Chaudière refers to the heavy pots Breton fishermen traditionally used to simmer their soup." Doesn’t that sound all big wool sweater-y and crackling fire-y and maybe even tasty? I thought so, too.

Chowder, the writer elaborated, was "a state of heart and mind more than a specific culinary technique." There was an existential howl in every bowl, something only Herman Melville and a few lob­stermen might understand: "It’s a brace against the whistling winds and quiet nights of the soul. …" Maybe I should wear a scarf while I cook?

The writer really knew how to sell it. Chowder was also "a balm to the free-floating desire for cuddle and comfort." This was not just a savory dinner; it was a full-blooded narrative, a French movie of a meal that would begin in a kitchen made aromatic by artisanal broths and spiced carrots and end upstairs in a pile of quilts.

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