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Tradition, exoticism, chowder

We love getting feedback. Of course, being a family-run content business, we (perhaps) take it more personally than other, contributor-driven sites. If someone criticizes the content on, say,,, Epicurious, etc., we imagine complaints are handled by someone who has little to do with the recipes or editorial choices that spawned the comments. We find it more than a little ironic that “personality brands” are often in danger of seeming corporate and impersonal when it comes to these types of interactions.

Joy, on the other hand, has no face truly associated with it. For many, Joy is not Irma, Marion, or Ethan. It’s a font, a color, a spattered book cover, an idea, a place, a form of knowledge. The Joy, as an object, serves as shorthand for an entire series of memories… all of this, without so much as a friendly face or affected “Y’all will love this.”

Despite our lack of “personality,” in the branding expert’s sense of the word, we consider our work to be an incredibly personal endeavor. When we wake up, we think about Joy. We do every blog, answer every email, and test every recipe. Can you draw an inverse relationship from this perceived irony? Do efforts to define a brand around someone’s personality inevitably lead to the “hollowing-out” of that brand? Once a persona has been painstakingly created and paraded in front of people, it seems imperative that other forms of interaction must be avoided, lest they not measure up or somehow get “off-message.”

Joy’s always been a little different. Like most (sane) people, our lives are typically “off-message.” Fan/hate mail used to come directly to my grandmother’s house, and now that this site has given our readers and users a much more convenient way of offering criticism, we contemplate quite a few complaints about the website, the book, and sometimes life in general. For every four warm-and-fuzzies waiting in our inbox, there’s a complaint.

Some of these have been very helpful, others not so much. The complaints we appreciate the most are technical in nature: "Why is Joy’s snickerdoodle recipe not working for me?" "There’s a typo on page eight hundred." We love these because we genuinely enjoy the act of making the book better, even if it means admitting we got it wrong. But, after a few years of curating the recipes posted here, it’s always difficult to hear something like this:

“Signed up and tried to retrieve recipe for stuffed peppers. After several
tries and receiving many non-traditional recipes for exotic dishes, I'm no
closer than before I registered. What's the deal?”

Of course, there’s a super-simple answer to this: not all of the book’s content is available on the website. Disappointing, we know, but necessary if we want to continue to make a living without endorsing products or running advertisements, an “integrity” issue for my great grandmother, grandmother, father, and Megan and I too. For one, it wouldn’t sustain the business, perhaps not even the website. Two: we want to remain impartial, as Irma, Marion, and Ethan have… new business models be damned.

But what, in this short message, really cut to the quick? “Non-traditional.” “Exotic.”

As we blog along here at the Joy Kitchen, the creative tension, the conflict, is quite clear to us. We need to reflect what’s in the cookbook without simply reprinting recipes. At the same time, we need to blog new material. Believe it or not, there are many exciting dishes not yet contained in Joy’s pages, and finding good things to cook is (thankfully) one of the activities Megan and I love best. In fact, I’m not sure if we could maintain this blog minus the thrill of experimentation. Some of these creations are intended for a future edition, others are “of the moment,” as most cooking usually is.

Of course, the last thing we want site visitors to come away with is the impression that we’re trying to be “exotic,” “non-traditional,” or in any way unapproachable with the recipes we choose to post.

“Well,” I decided, “time to do a nice, hearty dish from the book.”

Salmon chowder.

A nice salmon chowder. That’s all I had in mind for this post: simple, basic, and approachable. Sockeye fillets, some red potatoes, leeks, a splash of dry vermouth, sprinkled with herbs, finished with cream. A simple dish ubiquitous in the Pacific Northwest, and a fine balm on cold winter nights.

For the most part, I succeeded in sticking to the recipe, restraining myself through the first photo shoot (and dinner). Yet, I procrastinated: how can I really “get behind” this perfectly-satisfying dish? Something lacked. I didn’t discover the “truth” of it until the following day, when confronted with everything bagels at Portland’s winter farmer’s market.

<nearly-audible click>

Dill, chive, cream, caper and salmon are a holy combination of flavors, especially when combined with the characteristic toasted garlic, seed, and salt topping that liberally adorns a good everything bagel. The quest for simplicity went downhill from there.

So here it is, a delicious “of the moment” compromise between old and new, exotic and familiar: “lox bagel” chowder. The chowder gets thickened with starch from red potatoes and reduced cream. If you can’t leave the chowder alone, try adding a large Parmesan rind—my first lily-gilding addition. The rest is just garnish… after the lox-bagel epiphany, I plopped a modest scoop of sour cream into a shallow bowl of the chowder, added a few capers, sprinkled with fresh dill, and served with toasted everything bagel halves. The best part: tearing the bagel over the soup seasons it with all the tasty everything bits that usually fall to the plate.

Of course, the perfect thing would be to add and barely warm through hot-smoked salmon. It’s the local favorite, and would be a perfect substitute for my Sockeye. Lox might work too, but hot-smoked salmon has a much better, firmer texture for pairing with a velvety soup. Other traditional lox bagel toppings—chives, red onion, and tomatoes—would also make fine, visually-striking additions. Rejigger as you see fit.

How does all of this tie in to the heady thoughts on remaining impartial, the relationship between personality branding and authenticity, and the like? <Head scratch>. Looks like we’re “off-message” again...

Try not to get any "everything" stuck in your teeth.

"Lox Bagel" Chowder
serves 4 as a main course

If you have access to good, hot-smoked salmon, substitute for the fillets and warm through only.

Simmer but do not boil in a small saucepan, whisking occasionally, until reduced to ⅔ cup:
     1 cup heavy cream
Meanwhile, melt in a soup pot over medium heat:
     1 tablespoon butter
Add and cook, stirring, until the leeks are tender but not browned, 5 to 10 minutes:
     2 medium leeks, white part only, chopped
     1 or 2 garlic cloves, sliced
Add and cook until reduced by half:
     ½ cup dry vermouth
Stir in:
     4 cups of homemade fish or shellfish stock or 3 cups chicken stock and a bottle of clam juice
     3 small red potatoes, diced
     ½ teaspoon salt
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to low. Add the cream, along with:
     1 pound salmon fillets
     ¼ teaspoon black or white pepper
Simmer just until the salmon is nearly cooked through, about 5 to 6 minutes depending on the fillet’s thickness. Take off the heat and break apart the fillets into large pieces with a spoon. It will finish cooking as the chowder cools. Distribute the salmon pieces evenly between four bowls, ladle chowder on top, and garnish each bowl with:
     A small spoonful of sour cream or cream cheese
     Small dill sprigs
     (minced chives)
     (a few halved cherry tomatoes)
Serve with:
     4 everything bagels, halved and toasted


Susan Collins's picture

So, What has happened to Susan Becker's comments?
john's picture

I'm not sure what you mean, but thanks for your interest!
Larryredwine's picture

keep up the good work, love your contributions throughout the years thx.
Florence Adar's picture

This Lox-bagel chowder sounds so good, but I really have to go easy on cream and butter. Can't you help those of us who must by adding ingredients for a healthier version? I have JOY OF COOKING 1975. It's falling apart, but l won't give it up, yet l do need healthier versions of everything. Tx
john's picture

Hi Florence. This chowder can be easily tailored to your needs... of course it might not be quite as rich, but you won't be missing out on too much. You can just omit the cup of reduced cream altogether. The purpose of the reduced cream (aside from tasting decadent) is to thicken the broth. Instead, try grating a peeled potato into the pot as soon as you add the stock. This will help thicken the broth to "chowder" levels as it simmers. The pat of butter used to sweat the leeks and garlic could be canola or safflower oil instead... As for the final sour cream/cream cheese dollop, I would try to live with that since it's so essential to the taste of a lox bagel. Of course, yogurt has a similar sour twang, and "Greek" yogurt is pretty creamy to boot. Sometimes you can find yogurt "cream cheese" offered by some dairies. Yogurt cheese is also pretty easy to make yourself (just drain yogurt in a cheese-cloth-lined colander until it's thick). Does that help? Let me know how it turns out!

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