I made clam chowder for the first time last week. I don’t know why I never made it before. I’ve made haddock chowder a million times. Corn too. Even haddock and corn. But never clam.
And it was great! One of the reasons it was great was that I started with salt pork. When I was a kid, my mother always used salt pork in chowders. It became taboo during all those years we focused more on health than taste, and I have to agree that it should probably have stayed in taboo-land, but …
I interviewed the owners of the Chowder House, Sally and Bob Maroon, last week. They had closed their popular restaurant in Boothbay Harbor after a very successful 40-year run. Their former customers are lamenting the fact that there will be no more evenings sitting around the popular Boat Bar, having a cocktail and eating a bowl of Bob’s famous clam chowder.
The milk or cream-based clam chowder around these parts is usually referred to as New England clam chowder. I don’t think I have to explain that to you. A variation is Manhattan clam chowder, which I’ve never had. But I’m going to soon. Sally is going to send me her grandmother’s recipe.
Bob, on the other hand, is keeping his secret. Why would he share it? He has a good thing going there, and he may be needing something to fill his idle hours next summer.
There are disagreements about the consistency of New England clam chowder. Some like it thick. Some like it thin. Goldilocks would probably want it somewhere in between, “just right,” like her porridge, if she was real.
I like my chowder thin. I’ve seen it so thick you could eat it with a fork. Spare me. Throw it into a pie crust and call it pie, or clam porridge.
According to Merriam-Webster, chowder is defined as “a soup or stew of seafood (as clams or fish) usually made with milk or tomatoes, salt pork, onions, and other vegetables.”
And eater.com says: “While each region may prepare chowder differently, they all share one thing in common: all feel their clam chowder is the best.”
Ain’t that the truth. I’m willing to try Manhattan clam chowder (I’m going to have fun with that one 🙂 but I definitely feel that my New England clam chowder is the best. I am a loyal New Englander.
I made clam chowder for the first time.
I had gotten some steamers from Pinkham’s (again). I can’t seem to get enough of those babies lately. I attempted to eat 2 pounds all by my lonesome, and really, I could have? That’s not a question, just that silly intonation most often used by teenyboppers, and of course I had to Google it.
Apparently, not only do I suffer from ADD, I suffer from HRT too. Insert trepidatious emoticon.
The Guardian’s Matt Seaton asked, “… when you make a statement, does it sound more like a question because your voice gets higher at the end of the sentence? If so, you are suffering from HRT (high-rise terminals), a speech habit that is taking over the way we talk.”
He goes on to say that it’s mainly young people who use HRT. Unfortunately I can’t use that as an excuse.
Clam chowder. My mother pronounced it “clahm chowda.”
So I saved around a dozen of the small-ish steamers to use in my first pot of clam chowder. I knew that wouldn’t be enough, so was planning to pick up a couple cans of minced clams. Well, right beside the minced clams were cans of cherrystone clams, which I know many use for clam chowder, so I got those instead.
I got some salt pork, too. I know a lot of people use bacon instead, but I’m not a fan of the smokey flavor in chowder. And Merriam-Webster agrees. (See above.)
I went home and made a Manhattan. It was 5:30, so that was a no-brainer. Then I cut up the salt pork into little squares, fried them till golden brown and crunchy, and took them out of the fat and threw them onto paper towels. As if leaving that little bit of remaining fat in them would make them healthy, ha ha. But really – you don’t need a lot of that fat in the chowder. Salt pork is pretty lean these days, so you should be good. If it looks like too much, just get rid of some of it. Duh.
I chopped up some Vidalia onion and threw that into the fat, over medium heat. Once they were translucent, I threw in some cubed potato chunks and stirred it around for a couple minutes. Then I dumped in the broth from the cans of clams (I should have saved broth from the steamers but had forgotten).
Let that simmer till the potatoes are almost done, then throw in the shucked, canned, minced, whatever, clams. Slowly stir in milk, cream, half-and-half, evaporated milk, or any combination of the above. I used a can of evaporated and some whole milk. Let that sit over low, stirring whenever you set the Manhattan down, till hot.
Fill a chowder bowl and sprinkle some of the salt pork scraps on top.
P.S. I just tasted Chowder House’s clam chowder for the first time. OMG, no wonder it’s famous! And even though the Maroons won’t be opening their restaurant next summer, they’re not going anywhere. The Chowder House will be available for events, and I’m thinking there’s a good reason Bob’s not sharing his recipe. Stay tuned.
And the beat goes on. See ya next week.
(Suzi Thayer paints, feeds stray cats, eats good food, and drinks Manhattans. She’d love to hear from you with ideas and recipes for her column. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.)