Chef Victor Scargle may have a varied and impressive resume, ranging from Michael Mina’s Aqua to Cindy Pawlcyn’s Go Fish, but what remains constant is his dedication to using local and seasonal ingredients in his cooking, in the kitchen, at work and at home. It’s understandable then, when The Clever Root asked him for a personal recipe, something he might make at home, that he’d give us a recipe for his Dungeness crab and corn chowder, a particularly seasonal- and location-specific dish. “It’s a uniquely Northern Californian dish,” Scargle explains. “From Napa, it’s 40 miles in one direction to get live Dungeness crab, and 40 miles in the other direction to get fresh corn. The best time to cook this is when crab season is winding down and corn season is kicking in, sometime in the early summer, depending on how available crab is.”
Scargle came up with the recipe about a year ago, influenced by a dish he had made at Aqua. He describes eating the chowder by the coast, with the famous Bay Area fog rolling in. There are variations he suggests, depending on the weather; if it’s warmer, you can thin out the broth a little, and then add cold crab to it, and if it’s colder, you can thicken the stock with additional cream and potatoes. Since most people don’t have crab stock readily available, if you cook and clean the crab yourself, just wrap the shell in cheesecloth and add it into the broth, which will imbue it with a rich crab flavor. You can substitute fish or vegetable stock, although Scargle doesn’t recommend it. “The crab stock, or crab shells, whichever you use, will give the whole chowder a full crab taste, rather than just getting bits of the crab meat here and there.”
Scargle recommends pairing the soup with a Sauvignon Blanc or even a un-oaked, stainless steel fermented Chardonnay.
Dungeness Crab and Corn Chowder
1 tbsp. grapeseed oil
4 oz. leeks, split in half and sliced thin
4 oz. fennel, core removed, split in half and sliced thin
2 oz. celery, sliced thin
2 oz. Kennebec potatoes, peeled and rough chopped
1 garlic clove, smashed
12 ears of corn
2 tsp. salt
¼ cup Pastis
½ cup white wine
2 quarts vegetable stock
1 quart heavy cream
3 oz. Dungeness crab meat
2 quarts crab stock
1 bunch chives, cut in 1” batons on an angle
Cut the kernels off the cobs. Tie cobs in a bundle with kitchen twine and set aside. Place leeks, fennel, celery, potato, garlic and corn kernels in a rondeau with grapeseed oil on low heat. Add salt to draw out flavor and moisture. Cook until vegetables become translucent. Add Pastis and white wine. Cook until reduced by half. Add crab stock (or water and crab shells if using those) and corn cobs, then simmer for 30 minutes. Add cream, simmer again for 15 minutes. Season to taste with black pepper and salt.
Remove from heat and remove corn cobs. Blend chowder in batches in blender, then strain. Refrigerate immediately or serve with chives as garnish.