First, I hate Manhattan-style chowder, can't eat tomatoes and don't want to, so if you're looking for a fishy tomato soup this ain't it. All right-thinking people know that the only correct way to make clam chooowdah is New England cream style.
Second, chowder is not a soup, it's not a stew, it's chowder. Chowder is a thickened creamy broth, filled with finely chopped goodness. It's important. So, if you're looking for a bowl of thin fishy smelling dishwater with one big hunk of potato and a handful of sand, like they serve to the tourists in Freeport, Maine outside the LL Bean, this ain't it either.
Third, I like clam chowder, I like clams, I like seafood. I hate chowder that smells like a brackish tidal pool full of dead crustaceans. I want my clam chowder to taste and smell like food that people eat, not seagulls. So, if you're looking for chowder that reeks of rotting seafood like something slugs choke down at a Navy Chief's Initiation, again this ain't it.
You've been warned.
Now, like Nathan and his Kreplach, I usually just throw this together. I once, long ago, was a professionally trained chef, I've been making this recipe for a long time, and I rarely use any kind of measuring device when making soup, stew, or chowders. I also tend to vary the process depending how motivated I'm feeling and what ingredients I have access to - i.e. you have to be highly motivated to shuck a half bushel of New England Cherrystone Steamers, so usually I just settle for canned clams. Also, traditionally chowders are thickened with rue (usually spelled in the French manner: Roux. I went to an American culinary school where it was spelled Rue. My blog, my rules), flour paste browned at low temperature in a saute pan. Rues are a bitch, they take practice, both to make and also to integrate into the soup stock without lumps. The advantage is that rues add a rich flavor to the dish that you just don't get otherwise. However, unless you make a rue on a regular basis, you probably don't want to. Really. Also I tend to make this in a big batch. You really can't keep it, it doesn't freeze well at all, so I'll try to give you measurements for a smaller batch, adjust accordingly.
So with all that said, this recipe is simplified a bit. The flavor is nearly as good as the more complex method, but it's a lot easier to make.
What you need:
- Water, start with two quarts, add more if you need to.
- Chicken Base, Tones if you can find it, usually available
at SAMS Club or COSTCO or a good cooking supply store. If
you can't find it, use canned broth substituted for the
water. I use chicken stock because I don't want the chowder
to smell too fishy. You can use clam stock if you like.
- 1 cup good white wine. DON'T use 'cooking wine' that stuff
comes from the dregs of the winery. It's basically the crap
too lousy to make vinegar out of. Chardonnay is best.
- 1 pt. Half&Half (fat free works just fine)
- 4 cans chopped clams. Retain one can clam juice, filtered
through a coffee filter to get out the sand. Wash and rinse
the clams, really, wash and rinse unless you like sand in your
- 1/2 a pack of low-sodium smoked bacon - John Morale if you can
find it. Chill the bacon, then chop across the slices into small
- 1 good sized white onion, diced fine.
- 5-6 ribs of celery, diced fine.
- 2-3 three good sized waxy potatoes, yukon gold or white
diced into medium sized cubes
- 1/2 cup flour
- worcestershire sause
- dash white pepper
- kosher salt to taste
- good shredded cheddar cheese, Tillamook for those on the
How you put it together
Step 1a) You need a good sized sauce pan. Add the water and mix
in the chicken base -or- add the canned stock. Bring to a low
boil, be careful don't scorch it. Add the potatoes and simmer
just until they start to soften - don't overdo it, or the
potatoes will turn to mush. Remove the potatoes and set aside,
keep the stock at low heat.
Step 1b) While the potatoes are simmering, saute the bacon until
it is brown and crunchy. Remove the bacon bits and set aside,
retain 2 tbsps bacon grease in the pan, add the onions and celery.
Saute until soft, don't overdo it. Turn the heat as low as it will
go and add the flour. Gently stir the vegetable until they are
coated with the flour and oil. Cook gently until the flour just
starts to brown. Pay attention, if the flour burns, throw the
mix out and start over, unless you like the taste of burned
Step 2) Add the sauted vegetable/flour mix to the broth. Stir
with a whisk until the flour is completely dissolved into the
broth. Stirring rapidly, slowly add the Half&Half, keep stirring
or else the cream will 'break' (curdle). Stir for a minute or two
and make sure the heat is on low or else the creamy broth will
burn. Add the wine, clams, clam juice, salt and pepper, and half the
bacon bits. Heat gently and allow to cook for ten minutes. Add
the potatoes. Allow to cook gently, stirring every ten minutes
until the potatoes are done but still firm - about a half hour.
Step 3) Add a couple of good dashes of Worchestershir sauce.
Seriously, don't skip this ingredient. This adds 'brightness'
and 'depth' to the sauce (Worchestershire sauce is made from
anchovies, this adds a dimension missing from commercial or
restaurant chowders. Commercial soups don't add this, because
it darkens the soup a bit, and they are looking for that latex
paint gloss white look). You don't need a lot, but you must add
at least some.
Step 4) Ladle into bowls, add a small handful of cheese (this
isn't cheese chowder, what we want here is just a bit of
flavor) and a pinch of bacon bits to the top. If you're trying
impress people, sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley and serve
with hot sourdough bread.
Gotta run into Anchorage and see a man about some millwork. Back in a couple of hours. Maybe.