Sometimes, etymology tells you everything you need to know about a dish. The Oxford English Dictionary has this to say about “chowder”:

App. of French origin, from chaudière pot. In the fishing villages of Brittany faire la chaudière means to supply a cauldron in which is cooked a mess of fish and biscuit with some savoury condiments, a hodge-podge contributed by the fishermen themselves, each of whom in return receives his share of the prepared dish. The Breton fishermen probably carried the custom to Newfoundland, long famous for its chowder, whence it has spread to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and New England.

In New England, chowder really found a home. Melville devoted a whole chunk of Moby Dick to chowder:

“But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh! sweet friends, hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits and salted pork cut up into little flakes! the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt…..we dispatched it with great expedition.” Herman Melville – Ishmael in ‘Moby Dick’ (1851)

Red (i.e. tomato based) clam chowder originated in Rhode Island during the late 19th century, when, as story has it, Portuguese immigrants added tomatoes to their chowder. British New Englanders believed their creamy chowder to be superior and named the Portuguese version after Manhattan, presuming that New Yorkers were the only people crazy enough to add tomatoes.

Traditionally chowder is started with a base of bacon. However, I had a pescatorian dinner guest last night, so I started the base of this soup with anchovies for a similar salty rich kick. So please note, it’s either bacon or anchovies, not both – which I think would cause some serious saltiness. Also, I would recommend that you don’t salt this at all until you serve it, as the clams will add a surprising amount of salt in the last step. This recipe makes 4 big, dinner sized bowls.

6 bacon slices, cut into 1/2-inch squares OR 1 tbsp oilve oil & 2 anchovy fillets 1 cup chopped onion
3/4 c diced bell pepper
3/4 c diced celery
1 1/2 C diced potato
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/3 c sherry
1 can clams in juice
1 – 28 oz can diced tomatoes, including juice
2 pounds small hard-shelled clams (1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter), scrubbed well chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish
salt and pepper to taste

Cook bacon in a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. OR, heat olive oil over moderate heat, add anchovies and stir until they start to break up.

Reduce heat to moderately low, then add onion, bell pepper, and celery and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in potato, can of clams (with juice), spices and tomatoes (with juice) and simmer, covered, 10 minutes. Depending on how much liquid you got from the tomatoes and the clams, you may need to add a little water.

Optionally, if you want a thicker broth, once the potatoes are cooked, you can take 2 cups of the mixture out of the pot, and blend it with an immersion blender. Return the blended soup to the main pot.

Stir in fresh clams and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until clams open wide, 8 to 10 minutes. (Discard any clams that after 10 minutes have not opened.) Remove pan from heat. Season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Ladle soup into big bowls, and top with the chopped parsley. Serve with crusty bread.

~Deanna

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