Saturday, February 16, 2013

Classic Clam Chowder

According to David DeWitt, in his book The Founding Foodies (which is a very good book), seafood chowders were a "signature dish" of the colonial period in the New England region.  Chowders were usually made with fish, such as flounder or pollock, but cooks also used shellfish such as clams and lobsters.  The basic recipe called for rendering fat from salt pork, the creation of a "roux" that was thickened with flour, ship biscuits or saltine crackers, and the addition of milk.  Once the base was completed, then the seafood, whether fish or shell fish, would be added. 

This recipe comes from The Founding Foodies and it was a recipe that we made for our Wine Club dinner, A Colonial Dinner in New England.  According to DeWitt, the recipe is based upon one written by Mrs. N.K. M. Lee.  The recipe was published in 1842 and, in describing the recipe, Mrs. Lee wrote "[t]his Receipt is according to the most approved method, practiced by fishing parties in Boston harbor."

DeWitt notes that a couple of substitutions from the original recipes.  First, those recipes traditionally used salt pork, although that may be hard for some people to find.  DeWitt substituted bacon, which has become more common in modern versions of clam chowder.  Second, the recipe calls for the use of steamer clams.  DeWitt suggests that larger, Quahog clams could be used for a more robust flavor.  Cherrystone clams (younger Quahogs) could also be used.  If you do not have access to clams or do not want to shuck them, then DeWitt suggests using 2 cups of canned chopped clams.  For this recipe, I bought Cherrystone clams, but they were rather small.  So I doubled the number of clams (4 dozen).

Recipe from Dave DeWitt, Founding Foodies at p. 199-200
Serves 8

1/4 pound bacon, chopped fine
1 cup minced onions
4 cups diced potatoes
3 cups water
1/2 cup crushed plain crackers
2 dozen steamer clams, removed from their shells and chopped, with their juice
2 cups heavy cream
3 cloves (optional)
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
Paprika, for garnish

1.  Render the bacon and saute the onions.  In a stewpot, saute the bacon until the first fat is rendered, then add the onions and fry until they are golden brown.

2.  Cook the potatoes.   Add the water and the potatoes, and simmer until potatoes are cooked but still firm.  

3.  Continue to cook the chowder.  Add the crackers and clams, salt and pepper, and cloves (if you are using them), and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. 

4.  Heat the cream.  In a separate pan, heat the cream but do not allow it to boil. 

5.  Finish the dish.  Add the heated cream to the chowder, stir will, and simmer, uncovered for another 10 minutes.  Serve in individual bowls sprinkled with a little paprika for color.  

In the end, the clam chowder recipe was very good and I think everyone enjoyed the dish.  I will definitely make this recipe again, although I may try some other variants of clam chowder first. 


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