John Merwin's Recipe for New England Fish Chowder

There was a little fish-type activity here over Christmas weekend, despite its being a cold and blustery winter holiday. I warmed things up a bit by making an old-fashioned New England fish chowder. Here's how it worked.

Traditional ingredients are local to the New England coast, but can be found anywhere: salt pork, cod or haddock (or any sweet, white-fleshed fish from freshwater or salt), onions, potatoes, water, milk or cream or both, salt and pepper. The trick is in adding ingredients in the right order to account for differences in cooking times.

Start by cutting a slice of salt pork into one-quarter-inch cubes--about one-third of a cup's worth. Saute the cubes on the bottom of a saucepan to render the fat liquid, then save the crispy pork bits for later.

Coarsely chop a tennis-ball-size yellow onion, then saute the onion in the pork fat until the onion turns slightly golden. Add 3 or 4 potatoes that have been cut into pieces about one-half-inch thick. Add enough water to cover the potatoes, then heat to low boil so the potatoes start cooking.

In about 10 more minutes (when potatoes are about halfway done) add chunked fillet pieces to the top of the liquid. Cover and reduce heat to simmer. The fish will cook in about 7-8 minutes, by which time the potatoes will also be done. Add a cup of cream or 2 cups milk (I used a can of evaporated milk) and reheat but do not boil. Sprinkle reserved pork bits on top when serving.

This particular chowder is classically simple, but there are lots of possible variations. Any other ideas?