Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Clam Chowder

I did not grow up with or on chowder but I love it. The best clam chowder I have tasted is at Pearl Oyster Bar on Cornelia Street in the West Village - and I used that as my taste-reference to make my own chowder for the first time. I used fresh clams. It seemed the right thing to do. And we are lucky enough to have access to the fresh shellfish as well as to fishmongers who are willing to shuck them, carefully saving all their juice. (See alternative method below.)

The result is wonderful. Creamy, but not cloying, very briny, with a hint of carroty sweetness rising through the smoky bacon. No doubt I commited various heresies along the way but here it is. I would also serve creamy hot milk on the side in case it is too salty for some...

For Four, one bowl each. No seconds. Or you know, two pigs. 

2 Tbsps butter
1/4 cup carrot, mire poix-style (tiny cubes)
1/4 cup onion, ditto
2 rashers bacon - the best* you can get your hands on - cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 Tbsp flour plus 1 tsp
1 1/4 cups shucked clams (about 24 steamer clams, approx. 3lbs, in shell)
Clam juices reserved (about 1.5 cups)
1 1/2 cups milk, plus extra
1/4 cup cream
1 large potato - about 1 cup, peeled and cut into small cubes (1/4")
Half a lemon

Melt the butter and cook the carrots and onion till they caramelize a little, about 8 gentle minutes. Add the pieces of bacon. Cook until the fat runs. Sprinkle the flour evenly over the bacon and vegetables and stir well with wooden spoon. Allow to cook gently for a minute or two. This is the beginning of a quick roux.

[*See below for alternative method] Now add the clam juice, stirring furiously to prevent any sticking. Add the milk. Stir. Once the liquid reaches a boil (stir all the time), lower heat to a simmer. Add the cubed potato. Cook until just tender, about 6-8 minutes. Taste. Add the cream. The clam juices can very, very salty and if the soup is too salty, add a little more milk.  Bring back to a simmer and add the clams. The instant they cook and become firm, in under a minute, be ready serve the chowder, in warmed bowls. But taste one last time, and add a conservative squeeze of lemon juice.

I served this with still-warm crusty wholegrain bread from Sahadi, and a salad of roof greens that had a peppery kick.

No reason this would not work with mussels, but they'd have to be added after a gentle steaming to open them; and add the liquid they exude in the steaming pot (after straining it for grit). Maybe I'll try that in Cape Town after some mussel-scrounging on the rocks.

*An alternative method:

Instead of using raw clams, steam them open and remove the clam meat as soon as each shell pops. In which case:

24 steamer clams
1/2 cup white wine or dry white vermouth
1/2 cup water

Scrub the clams very well, or you will make sand soup.

Bring the wine and water to a boil in large pot with lid. Add clams and steam till they open - remove each one as it opens, or they will overcook and become tough. Collect the clam juices to use in the recipe as above, by straining though a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth (in case of sand). Proceed with the recipe above - adding thee clam juices after you have made the roux, Add the cooked clams at the last minute, and allow to heat through before serving.


  1. There's nothing like a good cup/bowl of clam chowda'.. as they say in Massachusetts. The BEST chowder I EVER had was in Hyannis Port, Mass at a little restaurant by the water. My husband and I had just married and moved from Northern VA to Wareham, MA to begin our new life and he a new job. (Wareham is a hop, skip and a jump from Cape Cod) And that was 25 years ago!! Now living in Arkansas, you can't buy or beg for a tasty, fresh, steaming cup of chowda'!!! (I esp. like the little oyster crackers)

  2. Yaaaaaaaaaaay - you are going to try it in Cape Town ! Yaaaaaaay...


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