Cooking Local: Danny Hayes’ Seafood Chowder

by Ray Linville | Photography by Diana Matthews

“Seafood has always been my favorite food,” says chef Danny Hayes, a restaurateur now for almost nine years. “It’s my first love that goes all the way back to when I worked as a kid in Hamlet selling fish off the back of a truck.”

Seafood chowder is a popular year-round dish at his restaurant The House of Fish in Aberdeen. “I always use fresh catfish, shrimp and lump crab meat. During the year, I occasionally add other seafood, such as cod, clams and mussels, depending on what’s available,” he says.

“I love making it for The Chefs’ Feast,” the annual fundraiser for the Sandhills Branch of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, “and was honored when I was invited to participate,” Hayes says.

He again is a participating chef at the event that will be held this year on Oct. 16. “The Food Bank and its mission are very important to me. We shouldn’t have hungry people in our area,” Hayes says.

“Danny’s chowder was a hit last year,” says Michael Cotten, director of the Sandhills Branch. “Many people will be drawn to the event because they remember it being a favorite from last year. Having a great seafood dish is always an attractive draw for a food event.”

Hayes claims that his chowder, in addition to being tasty, has magical properties. For example, a friend who was about seven months pregnant hadn’t felt her baby move. However, she felt the baby immediately after taking a few bites of his chowder. (Hayes has even more stories about the chowder and his customers.)

After making the chowder, Hayes likes to let it sit for a day before serving to enhance the flavors. Although he usually prepares 30 servings when he makes the chowder at his restaurant, Hayes has pared down the ingredient quantities for OutreachNC readers. Plus a special insight: Hayes doesn’t measure or use a recipe when he makes chowder (or any dish). “It’s all by feel,” he says. After you’ve made his chowder the first time, see if you can follow his example and make it using only your senses.

Ray Linville, a regular contributing writer of OutreachNC, has a love for Southern foods with a fresh twist. 

Ingredients – Makes 8-10 servings

6-8 large Yukon Gold potatoes,
washed and cut into bite-size pieces

1 whole stalk of celery, sliced into small pieces

2 tablespoons bacon drippings

½ sweet onion, diced

½ stick butter

5 cups whole milk

3 teaspoons corn starch

3 teaspoons water

6-8 catfish fillets (5-ounce each) with no skin

½ pound lump crab meat

2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 (15-ounce) can whole kernel corn

2 splashes white wine

Pinch Old Bay Seasoning to taste

Pinch salt to taste

Directions

1. In large pan, sauté cut potatoes and celery in bacon drippings (olive oil can be substituted for bacon drippings) and let vegetables cook down for about 5 minutes.

2. Add onions and continue to sauté vegetables for 5 more minutes until onions are translucent.

3. Add butter to vegetables in pan.

4. In separate pot to start broth, simmer milk for 5 minutes.

5. While milk is simmering, mix corn starch with water and pour into simmering milk to thicken broth and stir until thickened.

6. Pour vegetable mix into broth in pot.

7. Add fresh seafood (catfish first; then shrimp and lump crab meat 3-4 minutes later) to pot and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes or until seafood is tender. Stir continually with whisk to avoid any seafood sticking to pot.

8. Add a splash of white wine, take a sip yourself, and then add another splash.

9. Add Old Bay Seasoning and salt as desired for taste.

Danny Hayes is owner and chef of The House of Fish in Aberdeen. He will be featured at The Chefs’ Feast, the fundraiser of Sandhills Food Bank Branch at Pine Needles Resort on Oct. 16, when he will serve his popular seafood chowder.