Friday, March 11, 2011

New England Clam Chowder

How can a country that is an ISLAND not have clams for sale?
I mean seriously!
Alan and I had a craving for New England Clam Chowder so I stopped by the fish market while he was at the dentist today and bought a sack of Malden little rock clams. (Who knows, that's what the guy at the fish market called them.) Anyway, I obviously needed some extra clam both on hand for the chowder so I checked Tesco. Never heard of it. And they don't carry canned clams.

No wonder I never can find any fried clams in the frozen food section.

Anyway, I made New England Clam Chowder for dinner Saturday.
The recipe below is very traditional, in the style of "The Phillips-Byro Passover" tradition.

All amounts listed are approximate - I do not measure stuff for soup.
This recipe serves 2 for a main meal or 4 as a starter. There's usually a little leftover for the cook's next day lunch.

Fresh clams - lots, a net bag full.  OR - 2 cups canned minced clams, drained, juice reserved
clam broth - the clams will produce this when you steam them. If you use canned clams, they will be packed in it. . If not enough, try to get a bottle of it (easy in the US, lotsa luck in the UK)
1 medium yellow or white onion - diced
1 largish potato - about a cup chopped into 1/2 inch dice
1 stalk celery - diced
1 carrot - chopped into tiny dice
white wine - I used a really good white wine we hadn't finished the night before, about 8 oz or so. Ignore vigorous protests from spouse or partner that it is still good to drink.
1 Tb corn starch (UK: corn flour)
600 ml single cream - US: a pint
150 ml double cream - US: 4 oz or more, always nice
freshly ground black pepper
a tiny pinch thyme
Soup pot (sauce pan) with fitting lid.

This soup is made in 3 stages.

First prepare the clams:
Rinse the clams well under cold running water, examining each one to  make sure it's tightly closed. Discard any that are open. This is important .
Put clams into your soup pot. Pour in the white wine. Cover pot.
Bring the pot to a boil over a medium high flame - you want to heat it quickly.
Watch and as soon as the liquid starts to boil, lower the heat to medium.
It only takes 5 minutes to steam the clams. Then remove the pot from the heat.
Pour off the liquid, which is a very fragrant mix of clam juices and wine, into a tall measuring cup.
The shells will be open and you should be able to slide each clam out into a bowl with just a nudge of your finger.
If you used small clams, you can use them whole as they are little and tender. If needed, chop clams to bite size bits.
Wash out the pot. Relax a bit.Ignore spouse still banging on about the waste of perfectly good wine.

Second stage:
Assemble all ingredients to hand, prep the veg, dissolve the corn starch in a little cold water in a tea cup
Over medium heat, put about 3 tablespoons butter in your soup pot and let melt.
Add the chopped onions and let them become translucent, NOT BROWN! Turn down the heat if needed.
When the onions are mostly translucent, add the celery and cook for a few more minutes.
Then add in the potatoes and carrot. Stir to cover everything in a sheen of butter and let cook a couple more minutes.
Now slowly pour in the reserved clam juices. WARNING - there will probably be some grit at the bottom of the cup, so pour the liquid into the soup pot very slowly, watching carefully and STOP before the grit gets to the edge. If you are careful, you will only have about a tablespoon or so of liquid left with a bit of grit - throw this out.
Bring the pot to a boil, cover pot, lower heat to just enough to maintain a simmer.
Let the soup simmer gently covered for about 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, check that the potatoes and carrot are cooked through. Poke a knife into them or taste a sample. If needed, recover and let simmer an extra 5 min.
Uncover the pot for the next stage.

Third stage:
Give the corn starch/water mix a stir.
With the pot still simmering on the heat, start stirring it with a large cooking spoon.
Drizzle in the corn starch stirring constantly - soup will start to thicken immediately. Let cook for a minute.
The soup will thicken up more than you expect - which is good because next...
Still stirring, slowly pour in the single cream.
Add a tiny pinch of thyme and grind in black pepper - start with about 5 or 6 grinds.
TASTE THE SOUP! See if you need more black pepper. Add to taste. You might also need a bit more salt especially if you used fresh clams. If you add salt, do it sparingly!
Now add the double cream, stirring as you pour it in.
Add the clams.
Reduce the heat to low
Cook until heated through. Do not boil!
Taste and adjust seasoning.
Serve hot!

It actually took me about 30 minutes start to finish - but I've been tossing this soup together for years.
For fish chowder - just replace the clams with some nice fish like cod and haddock or salmon.