|Ivar's somewhat Original Gangstah chowder, recreated at home - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
Yes, Ivar's has a cookbook! And no, it's not just a hundred ways to batter and deep fry creatures of the sea. If you grew up in the Seattle area or lived here long enough, you've had a meal at one of Ivar's many locations. They're a local chain of restaurants, some that are sit-down dining experiences, several that offer fast, casual fish-and-chip bars, which I think most people are accustomed to. I don't think everyone appreciates the uniqueness of a local restaurant chain doing so well, but also managing to stay distinctly local. I spent many years in Arizona -- chain food central -- and they were all transplants from other states. It was fine, but it always felt a little off-putting, eating French onion soup in a fake bistro setting, surrounded by saguaro cactus. So when I arrived to Washington, seeing all these fish and chip places called Ivar's, and started realizing how legendarily good their clam chowder was, I felt like this was the best thing about local chains -- many easily-accessible locations for a familiar comfort meal, but something you can still only get in the Pacific Northwest.
|Getting my chow-dah on and perusing recipes - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
Back to my own personal battle with seafood -- Ivar's was one of the many Washington eateries that got me initiated into eating more seafood. I still don't eat as much as I should, according to whatever Food Pyramid we're supposed to be following these days, but I always liked their Puget Sound White Clam Chowder. Buttery, creamy, delicious, and not an overly strong flavor, which was probably why it was one of the many gateway drugs towards developing an appreciation for seafood. I was glad to see they included their recipe, although they admit it's not exactly what they make, saying it's not the massive batches they make to serve Husky Stadium, but I do have the fishy suspicion (har har) like they modified the recipe just a little, to keep some of the magic to themselves. But it's no Red Herring (I know, I'm killing you with these) -- the recipe they provide is pretty dang near close, and I admit, I messed with it a little, adding some leftover bits of carrot and a bit of homemade Old Bay.
Full disclosure: I messed with this chowder a lot, because in my grocery store haste, I grabbed a jar of fresh-shucked oysters, not clams. Yes, I know the difference, Spartacus, but I was in a rush and didn't realize it until I got home. I did a Homer Simpson forehead-slap "DOH," and that's when I decided, I'll be a little more liberal with some recipe ingredients, since it's now oyster chow-dah, not clam chow-dah. I didn't care, it tasted great.
And why did I have these leftover ingredients? Because I made the biggest crabcake-stuffed mushroom in the universe.
|Crabcake-stuffed mushroom - it's hyoooooooooge - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
So, brainpowers = activate. Why not get a giant portobello mushroom, make the filling per the recipe, but pile each large mushroom cap high with the good stuff? I see no issue with this logic. The filling is fantastic -- I love that they use mascarpone cheese versus mayonnaise like most recipes. I don't know why I never thought to do that before, but it works perfectly and keeps everything so creamy and extra-rich. The sweet carrot-oil drizzle for a finish is a great idea. I kept the strained-out carrots and just mixed that in with the filling before everything went into the oven to bake. If you do this mega-version, it definitely takes more time in the oven -- I pre-baked the mushrooms for a few minutes, just to get rid of some of their liquid, since the filling doesn't need much cook time. The recipe uses just the broiler since the appetizer size is small, but I let this main-course size version bake in a 350-degree oven for maybe 10-15 minutes, just when the filling starts to brown and then a minute under the broiler to get that crispy char.
|You want a crabcake? I'll give you a crabCAKE - Photos by Wasabi Prime|