Archive for October, 2012

Saturday, October 20, 2012 @ 10:10 AM

Chowder is a thick rich soup. Sometimes thickened by milk or cream or by crushed up crackers like “Oysterettes’. The name chowder is possibly derived from the French word “chaudiere” meaning stew pot or the type of pot that this concoction was cooked in. Nowadays you can cook chowder right on your stove top in a large soup pan. Better yet, how about right on the beach with your freshly caught clams or cold weather tailgating in the stadium parking lot using a traditional turkey fryer kit or stock pot and outdoor propane cooker?

Chowder, or chowda, in common New England terminology, usually contains potatoes and onions, sometimes celery and bacon or salt pork. The main ingredient is typically clams, fish or corn.

There have been many variations of clam chowda over the years. The main ingredients like the quahogs or chowder clams always the constant. Smaller clams are easier to eat raw on the half shell or steamed. The larger quahogs or chowder clams are chewy and tough. It is easier to chop them up and put them in soups or cakes.

New England Clam Chowda, probably the most well known, a creamy thick soup of clams, potatoes, onions, milk or cream, and sometimes celery, bacon, or salt pork. Almost always served with saltine type crackers or oyster crackers to crush up in the soup to make it even thicker.

There is a lesser known version of chowder that probably originated in coastal New England. This version is clear broth made of clam juice. The ingredients also include quahogs, potatoes, onions, bacon and sometimes celery. This version has spread from Rhode Island (a possible location of origin), all the way down the coastal eastern seaboard, with versions popping up in Delaware, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, regions where the hard shell bi-vavle is readily available. Though a spicy version is even found as far south as Florida.

Manhattan style Clam Chowder is the bane of New England apparently. “Manhattan” clam chowder was named due to New Englanders being offended by Rhode Island’s Portuguese immigrants inspired version of their traditional chowda. Portuguese cuisine had many traditional stews based with tomatoes. Instead of adding cream to the clear broth, they added tomatoes instead. Scornful New Englanders called this modified version “New York” clam chowder because, in their view, calling someone a New Yorker was, and probably still is, a major insult. Little did they know how popular the tomato based version would become. Long Island and Jersey chowders typically contain tomato. The people of Maine were so abhorred by this tomatoey version, that their legislature actually passed a bill in 1939, making tomatoes in clam chowder illegal.

Back to the clear broth, that goes by many names: Rhode Island Clam Chowder, Block Island, Delaware, Hatteras, Core Sound and Bogue Sound chowders. I came across a version through the NC Cooperative Extension that I elaborated upon.

If your clams are fresh caught, it is always a good idea to purge them first. This will help to cut down on sandy grit. Get some fresh clean Sound or Bay water and place preferably rinsed clams in the fresh water…24 hours is good. If you can purge them more than once all the better.

Ingredients:

Clams and juice (the more the better) 1 qt or more. 30 chowders or more.

3 large onions

6 slices bacon

3 lbs. Potatoes

3 ribs celery

Pepper to taste

Shuck the clams and put the meat and juice in a bowl.

If you are dealing with very large chowders with large muscles or don’t have a clam knife, try freezing the clams. When ready to open clams, run warm water over the clam and take a paring knife and remove clam from shell. Place frozen clams and frozen juice in a bowl. When all clams are removed from shells place clams on chopping board and dice with a large knife or meat cleaver, put diced clams and juice back in a bowl and let thaw. This will allow the sand and grit to settle to the bottom of the bowl resulting in less grit in the chowder. Dice the potatoes, celery, onions, and bacon. In large stock pot or cast iron Dutch oven, place the clams, onions, bacon and celery and simmer until the onions are tender. Add in the clam juice being careful not to put in the contents that have settled in the bottom of the bowl. Add potatoes that have been peeled and diced. Add water until desired salty taste is achieved (about 3 cups). Then black pepper to desired taste.

Whatever your preference may be, get out there and dig some clams! Who wants Chowda??

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