Monday, November 1, 2010

New England Clam Chowdah!

In the New England area, making good clam chowder is as sacred as cooking a Maine lobster perfectly or watching the hometown Sox beat the Yankees at Fenway Park with an Ortiz walkoff. There are no two ways about it, get it right or don't do it at all. On a cold Fall or Winter's day, there is nothing more comforting than a cup of hot steaming chowder.

Traditional New England clam chowder is cream- or milk-based, unlike the Manhattan version, which adds tomato to its chowder. Here's a great recipe I usually work with:

4 slices applewood-smoked bacon (medium dice)
1 large onion (small dice)
4 ribs celery (small dice)
3 medium russet potatoes (small dice)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (half a stick) - cut into small cubes so they melt faster
4 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon fresh dill (chopped)
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme (chopped)
2 bay leaves (fresh or dried)
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 cans of clams (whole not minced) or fresh quahog or littleneck clams
1 bottle clam juice
1/2 gallon half and half
Salt & pepper to taste

Start by rendering the bacon in a large pot. Then add the onions and cook until they are soft. Melt the butter and then add the potatoes and celery. Cook the vegetables for a few minutes and then add the flour and mix well. You will see the butter combining with the flour to create roux, a natural thickener. Continue stirring the pot until the roux turns slightly brown.

At this point, add the clam juice, half and half, coriander, garlic and onion powders and the herbs, the dill, bay leaf and thyme. Stir the mix in the pot really well so that everything gets combined and comes together as you continue simmering the chowder for the next hour or so. Five minutes before serving, add the clams to the chowder so that they will remain succulent and soft when eaten. Cooking the clams too long will only harden them. Taste and season with salt and pepper. New England clam chowder is usually served with oyster crackers.

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