New England Clam Chowder

Q: How do you make award-winning clam chowder?

A: First, you click your ruby slippers together three times and say to yourself, “I’m from New England, not Manhattan.” If you can’t get past that, there’s no point in continuing.


"New England" Clam Chowder

Eva:         Do you like clam chowder? I need to make it for the blog.
Andrea:   I like it.  I think Brad would like it if you made it.  We’re in.
Eva:         Just so you’re forewarned: I’m making the New England clam chowder, not the Manhattan.
Andrea:  What’s the difference?
Eva:         New England clam chowder is the white kind.  It’s creamy.
Andrea:  There’s another kind?
Eva:        Yes, with tomatoes.  No cream.
Andrea:  Huh, I’ve never heard of that.
Eva:        Manhattan is healthier.
AndreaWhatever. It’s like chocolate.  What’s wrong with you?
Eva:        You know I’m blogging about this conversation verbatim, don’t you?

I generally prefer Manhattan clam chowder to New England, but only because New England is less friendly to my tendency to curviness (or is it more friendly? whatever).  Renegade that I am, I make my Manhattan clam chowder with a little saffron in the broth.

But let’s be real.  In my heart of hearts, I prefer the comforting and creamy NE version.  Nary a tomato in sight (although – barbaric! – I’ve been known to chop up a fresh tomato or two and throw them in at the last minute).  There was even an attempt in 1939 to make adding tomatoes to clam chowder illegal in Maine (I looked and looked for the actual wording of the proposed legislation but couldn’t find it.  Anyone?).

Like many of the foods and drinks we’ve blogged about here, (Hot Toddy, anyone?), Clam chowder has a rich history that a whole bunch of people want to take credit for.  There is, of course, considerable debate about what a “true” or “traditional” clam chowder is.  See, however, my discussion about tradition in my Chicken Cacciatore blog.  It’s my opinion (and I don’t think I’m alone), that “tradition” is whatever you’ve grown up with.  And, despite the fact I’m from the prairies (nary a sea shore in sight), the clam chowder I grew up with is pretty damned good.

That said, I also believe (gasp!) that “traditions” can and should be improved upon, generation by generation (okay, and sometimes meal by meal).

And anyway, “Even in New England, known for the Boston or New England-style chowders, you can find different types of clam chowder.”

So there.

Most “traditional” NE clam chowders are made with bacon.  I’m going with Della on this one, though, that it’s not really the bacon it needs, just some sort of salty rich fat.  Looking in my freezer for something appropriately rich, salty and fatty to flavour the soup with, my eye snagged on a Ziploc bag on which was written (in my handwriting), “duck apple”.  There were two sausages in the bag.  Ah ha! (Maybe I should start a new blog: “Everything’s better with Duck”?)

I’m of the opinion that the very best clam chowder is made with at least some fresh clams.  So, after staying out far too late on Friday night (where some guy who told me his name was “Trane” tried to pick me up at the casino – with Jim standing two feet away and letting “Trane” buy him drinks), I got up Saturday and headed to T&T Supermarket for some clams. Sometimes T&T gets razor clams in, but there were only manila to be had (oh well, I guess I’ll just have to sacrifice).

Jim and I eventually made it out to my sister’s place, where in between “drawing” with my 15-month-old niece, I made the following:

“New England” Clam Chowder

steam the clams (lid on, of course)

  • 3 lbs fresh clams
  • 2 C dry white wine (or seafood stock or chicken stock)
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1 duck sausage, removed from casing and broken into small pieces (or, if you must, you shameless bacon-eaters: 4 strips good bacon, diced, but then reduce the butter to 2 Tbsp)
  • 1 medium onion, ½ inch dice
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 L whole milk
  • 3 ribs celery, ½ inch dice
  • 4 C new potatoes, 1 inch dice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¼ tsp dried thyme (or 1 tsp fresh, minced)
  • 2 cans “baby” clams (not drained)
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and grated (I like the colour and sweetness the carrot brings.  Blancmange “purists” can leave it out).
  • black pepper, to taste
  • salt, to taste (note: it will take a fair amount of salt due to the potatoes)
  • a few drops of Tabasco or other hot sauce (optional)
  1. Clean the fresh clams with a scrub-brush and fresh water.

    reserved clam / wine stock

  2. Heat the wine in a large pot over medium-high heat until simmering.  Add the clams and cover tightly for about 5 minutes until clams are open. (I’m lazy and hate shucking clams.  This is the “cheater” way to do things, but what’s there to lose? You’re still collecting the clam nectar. If you have an opinion on this, I’d love to hear it).
  3. Place a wire strainer over a large bowl.  Scoop clams and shells into wire strainer.  Scoop clams from shells, discarding shells and any unopened clams.  Place shelled clams into the fridge.
  4. Pour remaining wine/clam stock through strainer.  Discard any crud in the strainer (sand, etc) and set the stock aside.
  5. Heat butter over medium heat in another large stock pot (or wash the one you just used, if it’s your only one). Add sausage (or bacon) and sauté until sausage (or bacon) is browned, using a spatula to break the sausage into small (½ inch or less) pieces. Add the onion and cook until softened.
  6. Stir in flour and cook for a few seconds. Add the reserved clam/wine stock, gradually, whisking rapidly after each addition to make sure there are no lumps. When all of the stock has been added, stir in the milk and add the celery, potatoes, bay leaf and thyme.
  7. Cook, uncovered (stirring frequently to prevent lumps), until thickened and potatoes are soft but still have some texture.  Taste and add salt and pepper.
  8. Add the canned clams and their broth, and the carrot (if using).  Cook for another 15 minutes or so. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  9. Add the reserved clams and cook until clams are warmed.  Taste.  If the soup is too “rich”, add a few drops of Tabasco and some pepper (hot sauce is an excellent way to cut the richness in a milk/butter soup.  You won’t notice the heat from a few drops but you will find the cloying “richness” reduced).

Serve with crusty warm bread and a nice, tart white wine.

P.S.  Diana’s “tradition” is to stir a whole bunch of French’s mustard into her clam chowder.  She said, “don’t laugh; it gives it a great tangy flavour!”  But of course, she was talking about the Campbell’s Chunky Soup version (the soup that eats like a meal!).

P.P.S.  We decided that we definitely need a blog called “Eva’s photographic journey” that talks about all of my camera problems (and the ridiculously bad pictures I’ve taken for this blog).  This time my camera was out of batteries so I had to borrow my sister’s.  And, I still really haven’t gotten the hang of food photography.  Oh, how I wish for the days of my old 35-mm SLR with film in it!   * sigh *