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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.
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.
Andrea: Whatever. 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).
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
- 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)
- Clean the fresh clams with a scrub-brush and fresh water.
- 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).
- 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.
- Pour remaining wine/clam stock through strainer. Discard any crud in the strainer (sand, etc) and set the stock aside.
- 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.
- 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.
- Cook, uncovered (stirring frequently to prevent lumps), until thickened and potatoes are soft but still have some texture. Taste and add salt and pepper.
- Add the canned clams and their broth, and the carrot (if using). Cook for another 15 minutes or so. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- 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 *
In which our hero succeeds in making an exemplary classic French dish, and fails miserably in figuring out the depth of field on her camera.
First of all, I have to apologise. I missed my post on the 7th. It was National Cotton Candy Day. I had no cotton candy and I had no internet. And I was out of town on a business trip. Hence, no post. It’s a lousy excuse really, but there you have it.
It’s an interesting point to note that many of these so-called “American Food Holidays” are actually celebrations of traditional French foods. Don’t tell those people who coined the phrase “Freedom Fries” but the French culinary tradition is so deeply engrained in American (and Canadian) food culture that many of the foods that Americans like to think of as traditional American foods are actually French in origin. Why? Well, let’s think about it. The three main colonizing countries of the Americas were France, England and Spain. Spain and France are, like, right next to each other and their cuisine is really quite similar in a lot of ways. And it’s really really good. England? Do I really need to state the obvious? Mushy peas. ‘Nuff said. The Spanish never really got their hooks into the Northeastern seaboard so French food reigned supreme until the next big wave of immigrants from Europe began to hit in the late 19th century.
Which brings me to Bouillabaise. A challenging word to spell, but a relatively easy dish to make. A classic peasant meal – it’s easy to imagine French fishermen cooking up vats of the stuff in an old cauldron over the hearth in the days of yore. As with many classic peasant dishes in the era of Michelin stars and celebrity chefs, it has been elevated to the rarified status of “gourmet food”. In any event, it is the perfect meal at the end of a long, cold, (somewhat) snowy December day. Of course, I had to get all “haute cuisine” on its ass and make it all fancy shmancy so it took me all day. It still wasn’t hard, but the recipe is long on account of there’s a lot of ingredients.
I started out this morning by busting out the trusty ol’ Larousse for some quick research (see my earlier post on Mousse for more on Larousse). Then I arrived at the grocery store shortly after they opened and I entertained myself by selecting my fish and perplexing the poor fish counter guy: “6 mussels, no 9, 9 mussels, 6 clams, 6 scallops, just a little bit of halibut, no a little less, and a little snapper, no a little more, and some shrimp please.” I know he was curious, but he was too polite to ask.
At home, in my beautiful enamelled cast iron Dutch Oven (courtesy of the Fabulous Dea), I sauteed: 2 cups diced sweet onion, 5 cloves of Russian Red garlic (a very garlic-ey garlic, with a nice nutty flavour – an aside: did you know that there are dozens of varieties of garlic? Check out this link to discover more about garlic), a sliced/diced fennel bulb, 2 carrots diced, 2 sticks celery diced until onions were soft, translucent and starting to turn golden. I added s & p, some sprigs of thyme, tarragon, parsley, 2 small bay leafs, 1 tsp. Ethiopian Berbere (a curry powder from a SaltSpring Island company), about 3 tbsp of chopped orange peel and sauteed for a few minutes more before removing from the heat. I added to this mix four large peeled and diced tomatoes, 1 large can of diced tomatoes, 1 can of clam nectar. Then I stuck the snapper, halibut and scallops on top, poured olive oil over it liberally, gently mixed it all up and stuck it on the front porch to marinate all day (it was -2 so I figured it was foodsafe).
After a raucous playdate for G with buddy Wyatt, a long afternoon nap and a trip to a baby shower (to which we arrived 2 1/2 hours late having forgotten it was a potluck and bearing the same gift we had already given to the expectant mommy months before), I made my bouillabaise. I scooped the fish out and set it aside. Then I brought the veggies and broth to a slow boil, adding two more cans of clam nectar and some chicken broth that was in the fridge (had to use it up – I know, I know – alll wrong in a fish soup – bad me!). In the meantime, I fried up some potatoes to be added later. After 30 minutes of simmering, I added back to the broth the snapper and halibut at a slow simmer. Seared the scallops and set aside. Deglazed pan with red wine and added to soup. Scrubbed the mussels and then added mussels and clams. Scallops and remaining juices went back in moments before serving.
I served my serving of bouillabaise in the traditional fashion. The broth goes in a wide shallow bowl with some bread (I used Thrifty’s “Bake your own bread” Filone) and the fish and other goodies get served separately. P had his all in a bowl with the bread on the side. I think the bread was probably too fresh for the traditional method – it got pretty soggy very quickly – but it was a good match flavourwise. My second helping I had P’s way and I think I liked it better (could’ve been the butter on the bread). It was awesome. Reminded me of the fish stew that my dad used to make all the time. Crazy good – sometimes I really love having to do this blog because these are things I just wouldn’t make in the normal course of things. We, of course, toasted poor Dea who was supposed to join us for dinner tonight, but was sadly held back on account of a rotten cold.
I woke up this morning with green makeup all over my face.
Jim assured me that he brought our camera home with him, but it wasn’t on the bathroom floor, where I found my purse and peacock tail. Nor was it on the living room floor with my boots and all of Jim’s clothes.
I haven’t found the dress I was wearing yet, either, so I haven’t lost all hope.
Oh, there it is. It was on the table beside Jim’s wallet. How logical. It turns out when you’re wielding the camera, you don’t get a lot of pictures of yourself. I know I promised costume pictures but all I have so far are pictures of my makeup. I hope someone from the party has a picture of me. I know I saw people taking them.
Just as a bonus, I’ve included a picture of Alex (God’s Gift to Women), Jim (Dead Cowboy) and Dave (Ghost).
Today is both vinegar and deep fried clams day. I celebrated with Jim yesterday afternoon, with takeout from the Windjammer, an unlikely splash of authentic English pub-ness on Main Street in Vancouver. There’s a great review of it here.
I have to say, I’ve never had clam strips that actually tasted like clams. Normally they taste like batter and whatever you put on them. Mine tasted like batter, lemon juice and malt vinegar. I picked up some halibut and chips for Jim, too. The halibut was fluffy and delicious.
Malt vinegar is the way to go with fish and chips, hands down.
I was going to tell you all about sherried eggs with a sherry vinegar reduction, but hey, I had a peacock costume to assemble.
I’m sure there’s a sherry day, or an egg day, in the future.
In the meantime, here’s a picture of my niece, Avery (in my opinion the world’s cutest little girl), in her devil costume. That should make you forget about sherried eggs.