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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 *
I am not really a pastry chef. Most of the time, I’d rather have the savoury than the sweet. It’s my theory that the creators of American Food Holidays threw in cupcakes whenever they came up with a blank: check out Dea’s cupcake throwdown; and Della’s cupcake petits-fours. I am no queen of cupcakes, like our friend Heather, co-owner and co-founder of Cupcakes in Vancouver.
Cupcakes make me feel… housewifely. Not a terribly familiar feeling, nor welcome. To get in the mood, I threw some Blossom Dearie on the stereo.
There oughta be a moonlight savings time
so I can love that man of mine
until the birdies wake and chime
If I was going to be a housewife, I don’t think that’s the kind I would be. I pulled out Blossom (sorry, Dearie), and put on Concrete Blonde.
Love is the ghost haunting your head
Love is the killer you thought was your friend
Love is the creature who lives in the dark
Sneaks up, will stick you and painfully pick you apart
A little dark, non? But really – admit it – we all sort of want, or want to be (or both) the kind of housewife who meets you at the door with a kiss that turns into a bite, drags you inside by the scruff of your neck while you yelp, “let go of my ears! I know what I’m doing!” and she says “prove it.” (I’ll leave the rest to your imagination, but don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.)
This slightly dark image perfectly symbolizes the kind of cupcakes I wanted to make. I thought of savoury. There’s a whole debate raging out there, apparently, about savoury cupcakes. But I ask you, when is a cupcake no longer a cupcake? When does a cupcake become a muffin or a scone? I think there’s an essential character to a cupcake. It has to be cake. So while you shameless bacon-eaters can make lovely caramelized bacon cupcakes, as soon as you start adding whole wads of cheese and ham… they turn into scones.
I found what I was looking for at Big City, Little Kitchen: Guinness Cupcakes! The authors say “the beer adds richness and
moisture”… but I’m not sure I buy that. A stick of butter is half a cup, folks, and don’t forget the sour cream. Just FYI I used light sour cream (and light cream cheese in the icing) but I’m not sure how much of a difference it made, with all that butter and beer.
I followed the advice of one of the commenters and substituted Guinness for milk in the icing. I also threw in a scant teaspoon of cocoa, to bring the colour more accurately to Guinness “foam”. They’re pretty damned good. Not too sweet. I like the cream cheese icing, not being a fan in any way of buttercream icing (* shudder *). Interestingly, neither the cupcake nor icing on its own tasted all that “Guinness-y”, but together, they imparted a subtle Guinness flavour.
Would I make them again? Doubtful. I would still rather spend my calories on dinner (or eggnog). But a worthy endeavour, nonetheless.
Cheers! ~ Eva
P.S. Betty Boop apron again – somehow it seemed to fit.
It’s National Noodle Ring Day.
I’m all about comfort food. It’s just that the food that comforts me is wild mushroom risotto with sherry and truffle oil; or the upcoming (watch for it) oysters, duck and champagne dinner Della and I have planned for Boxing Day.
There are recipes all over the internet for baked noodle rings with cheese sauce (it’s apparently a German recipe). I thought I’d spruce it up a bit by making an authentic baked macaroni and cheese (in a ring, of course). Perhaps drizzle in some truffle oil (that would definitely comfort me). But I couldn’t do it. It’s too close to Christmas. I tend toward a certain “curviness” as it is, and as I have only a few precious Christmas calories to spend, I prefer to spend mine on eggnog. Vats of it. I could go on and on about eggnog. Deanna will be blogging about eggnog on Christmas Eve, and I eagerly anticipate her recipe.
So instead (shameless cheater that I am), I made a ring with whole-wheat spaghetti and my Mom’s spaghetti sauce (with a few adjustments of my own). Less calories than mac-n-cheese, leaving room for those vats of eggnog.
Spaghetti Sauce is the “Betty” to Bolognese’s “Veronica”. It’s the girl next door of pasta sauce: uncomplicated and friendly, it will give you a hug at the end of a long day and listen to you complain about your life with love in its eyes. This sauce is the height of simplicity. It was often a birthday dinner in our house (who doesn’t love spaghetti?).
Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
A note on the dried herbs: you will recall that I grew up on the prairies. When I was growing up, you couldn’t buy fresh herbs in the grocery store year-round. Also, I’m surprised to discover that fresh herbs can become bitter in a sauce that’s simmered over several hours. I like to use the dried and then finish with fresh just before the end.
- 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large or 2 medium onions, small dice
- 3 stalks celery, small dice
- 6-8 cloves garlic
- 2 lbs extra-lean ground chicken or turkey
- 3 C sliced mushrooms
- 1 large carrot, peeled & grated (feel free to add other diced vegetables as desired)
- 2 T dried oregano
- 1 T dried basil
- 1 T dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried rosemary, crumbled
- 1 bay leaf
- 3, 16-oz cans whole plum tomatoes, with juice
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2-3 T fresh herbs (oregano, basil, thyme or a combination)
- tomato paste (if required)
- Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add the onions and celery and sauté until the onions are translucent and starting to brown (5-7 minutes).
- Add the garlic and chicken or turkey. Sauté until lightly browned, using a wooden spoon or spatula to break apart the chicken into small chunks.
- Add the mushrooms and sauté until browned and moisture has cooked off.
- Add the carrot, oregano, thyme and rosemary and cook for another 5-7 minutes until the carrot is softened.
- Add the tomatoes, using your wooden spoon or spatula to break them up a bit (don’t worry, they’ll have lots of time to soften up). Add the bay leaf.
- Don’t salt and pepper it yet – it will reduce and the flavours will intensify.
- Simmer gently (do not boil the hell out of it) for 3-5 hours with the lid off. (This way you’ll thicken the sauce to the point that you shouldn’t need tomato paste)
- When thickened (or when you give up), add the fresh herbs and cook for another hour with the lid on. If your sauce is watery, add some tomato paste to thicken. Taste your sauce and add salt and pepper as required.
- Then… put it in the fridge overnight. (Yes, that’s right. The best spaghetti sauce has had some beauty rest before the big show. Come on, do you think Betty would try to seduce Archie after a long, tiring day?)
- The next day, slowly heat the sauce to simmer (not boil).
Serve with spaghetti and fresh parmesan.
If you want to make the recipe more “Mom-thentic” (for all of you shameless bacon-eaters out there):
- skip the olive oil. Instead, dice -8 slices of good bacon and sautee until browned.
- add the rest of the ingredients as above, but
- use ground beef instead of chicken.
P.S. Sage, the apron was a sturdy blue jean. Jim has a matching man-apron in the same fabric.