When Matt Spector, wine director and manager at Deer Isle’s Aragosta, took over Stonington’s Harbor Café (together with lauded chef and NYC-to-Deer Isle transplant Max Katzenberg) in March, very little changed at the stalwart Main Street diner. But the duo did sneak in a few culinary upgrades: a crispy pork katsu sandwich showed up on the previously no-frills menu. The pancakes got a little fluffier, with some extra buttermilk in the mix. And the lobster chowder got a makeover at the hands of Spector, who leaned on both his family’s traditional recipe and a few fine-dining flourishes — the addition of mirepoix and dashi — to create a full-flavored version that still pleases the eatery’s die-hard regulars. “Max and I have been taking little tricks we’ve learned at fancier restaurants and applying them to diner food,” Spector says. As with the chowder, though, the integrity of the classics stays intact. “People realize it tastes better than old-school chowder,” he adds, “but can’t figure out quite why.”
Japanese Stock, French Bread
“When I started working for Devin [Finigan, chef-owner of Aragosta], I learned about what adding hondashi could do for dishes,” says Spector, who spent 25 summers on Deer Isle before he moved there. “It’s a broth made from seaweed and bonito flakes, and it adds a much more intense seafood flavor — so don’t skip that addition.” Also, Spector says, don’t be afraid to add in more lobster than the recipe calls for, if you’re so moved (“that’s the highlight, right?”). Finally, have some carbs on hand to soak up all that yummy broth. “I always like a really nice, crusty baguette to dip into it,” Spector says. “Oyster crackers are terrific too, but a baguette makes it even more substantial.”
Serves 4 to 6
“Growing up, my mom owned a seafood restaurant in Amagansett, Long Island. For chowders, she added diced carrots, onions, and celery — a mirepoix. I’ve been adding that to chowders ever since I was a kid. The sweetness of the onions and carrots is the perfect aid to the lobster meat.“
Seafood broth: 2 cups hondashi broth (mix available online or in Asian grocery stores) ½ cup clam juice
Chowder: 2 cups diced potato 2 tablespoons unsalted butter ¼ cup diced onion ¼ cup diced celery ¼ cup diced carrot 2 cups chopped lobster meat, preferably claws and knuckles 2 cups heavy cream ½ teaspoon chopped tarragon salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, boil the potatoes until they are tender enough to easily stick a fork into. Drain them and set aside.
In a separate, medium-size pot, make the seafood broth. Combine the hondashi and the clam juice and stir occasionally over medium heat until warm. Turn the heat to low and keep warm.
In a large stockpot, over low heat, add the butter and heat until just melted. Add the onions, celery, and carrots. Cook until soft, without browning them, for about 2 minutes.
Add the potatoes and lobster to the stockpot. Gradually pour in the seafood broth, gently stirring until thoroughly mixed.
Gradually pour in the heavy cream, followed by the tarragon, stirring to mix the ingredients thoroughly. Cook over medium to high heat for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, and allowing it to simmer to reduce the chowder until it has reached your desired thickness.