If you go to a fishmonger, see if you can get some bones or a carcass of a non-oily white fish like California halibut or fluke. At home, put the bones in a pot and cover with fresh water and a splash of vinegar, then bring to a low simmer and cook for just 20 to 30 minutes to make a fresh and delicious fish stock for this recipe.
6–8 ounces bacon, chopped into small pieces
1 onion, diced small
1 cup chopped celery or ⅓ cup minced tender stems of lovage
½ cup dry white wine
2 cups fish stock, or more as needed
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
1 pound boiling potatoes, diced into ½-inch cubes
1 tablespoon kuzu
1 cup rich milk or half and half
Applewood smoked salt (optional) to taste
Black pepper (optional) to taste
¾ pound white fish such as cod, bones removed and cut into 1-inch cubes
1¼ pounds fresh clams in the shell, rinsed
¼ cup minced fresh lovage
In a wide-bottomed pot with plenty of surface area, cook the bacon to taste over low heat, stirring often. Remove the bacon to a bowl with a slotted spoon.
Add the onion to the bacon fat and cook, stirring often, until translucent and a bit brown. Add the celery or lovage and stir, cooking, for a couple of minutes.
Add the white wine and stir, then cook, unlidded, until the wine is mostly evaporated.
Add the fish stock, bay leaf, sea salt, and diced potatoes, then cook until the potatoes are tender. I usually use a combination of lidding and leaving unlidded to allow for evaporation. The potatoes should be just covered by liquid, but no more.
Dissolve the kuzu by whisking it into the cold milk. Kuzu is a thickener, and 1 tablespoon will make the chowder creamy, but not thick. If you want a thicker chowder, use more kuzu. (You could also thicken the chowder with white flour mashed together with butter or bacon fat.) Add the kuzu-milk mixture to the soup and cook, stirring, until the kuzu has thickened. Taste and add more salt to taste. I love to use Allstar Organics Applewood Smoked Salt in this for added smoky flavor. Grind some black pepper in if desired.
Stir in the pieces of fish, then put the clams on top of the chowder and close the lid. Cook for about 5–10 minutes, until clams have opened. (Discard clams that do not open.)
Remove the chowder from the heat, and serve sprinkled generously with the crisp bacon and the minced lovage. Delicious with salad and crusty bread or crisp crackers. Offer an empty bowl for the clam shells.