Citizens, New England Clam Chowder is a classic, but far too often it resembles a mucilage of flour and overcooked seafood.
My version honors the source with top-quality ingredients as well as fresh herbs – it was begrudgingly acknowledged by an 85-year old dyed-in-the-wool New Englander as the best she had ever tasted.
The fact that a New Yorker made it was a source of great consternation to her. She was however consoled knowing I went to college in Massachusetts. 😉
Chowder as it is known today originated as a shipboard dish, and was thickened with the use of hardtack. Chowder was brought to North America with immigrants from England and France and seafarers more than 250 years ago and became popular as a delicious dish, and is now a widely used dish as it is simple to prepare.
In 1890, in the magazine American Notes and Queries, it was said that the dish was of French origin. Among French settlers in Canada it was a custom to stew clams and fish laid in courses with bacon, sea biscuits, and other ingredients in a bucket called a “chaudière”, and it thus came to be invented. Then the Native Americans adopted it as “chawder”, which was then corrupted as “chowder” by the Yankees.
In the United States, early chowder making is traced to New England. It was a bowl of simmering chowder by the sea side that provided in its basic form “sustenance of body and mind – a marker of hearth and home, community, family and culture”.
It is a food which evolved along the coastal shoreline of New England as a “congerie” of simple things, very basic and cooked simply. It is a simple dish of salt and pepper, potatoes and onion, pork and fish, cream and hard crackers, and not a sophisticated dish of the elite. Its simplicity made it attractive and it became a regional dish of the New Englanders, and their favorite recipe was “chowder master”.
“Symbolically, functionally, mnemonically or dynamically” chowder has become a powerful means for New Englanders to define themselves as a community, a rich community with a deep past and value that distinguishes their region from all others. The dish has been made there for a long time and is imbibed into the community culture. Etta M. Madden and Martha L. Finch observe that chowder provides “visceral memories that provided feelings of familiarity, comfort and continuity”.
A recipe formulated and published in 1894 by Charles Ranhofer, a famous chef of Delmonico’s restaurant, was called “Chowder de Lucines” and had ingredients of pork, clams, potato (sliced to a seven sixteenths-inch size), onion, parsley, tomato, crackers garnished by thyme, salt and pepper.
Few places make a finer New England Clam Chowder than Legal Sea Foods, by the way – do try the chain if you find yourself in Massachusetts!
Battle on – The GeneralissimoPrint
- Steam 4–6+ pounds of manilla clams in large container until open, in a mix of ⅔ water, ⅓ Chardonnay (about 1–2 inches of liquid) with additional chopped parsley (2 tablespoons, chopped), celery leaves (2 tablespoons, chopped), a little fresh tarragon (about ½ teaspoon, chopped) and fresh thyme (1 tablespoon). SAVE clam broth!
- Remove clams right after they open. Remove clams from shells.
- Add bottled clam juice (I like Snow’s of Maine), if needed, to clam broth to make one quart – if more than one quart of broth, boil it down to 1 quart. Boil 1 quart of diced potatoes in 1 quart clam broth until potatoes are nearly done.
- Dice 3 slices of bacon (best if you can get slab bacon and dice into small cubes, eyeball it to about the equivalent of 3 slices). Fry until moderately crisp.
- Cut 3 medium-sized onions into a small dice and fry in bacon fat until translucent.
- Add entire contents of pan with bacon and onions to mixture of potatoes and clam juice. Add clams and cook until tender.
- When ready, add 1 quart heavy cream, cook to boiling boil and add in 1 TBS. potato or corn starch (2 if you prefer a thicker chowder) mixed with an equal amount of melted butter and previously cooked over a high heat. Immediately remove broth from heat and stir thoroughly.
- Ladle into bowls and add small pat of butter if you like to the top of each bowl. Add pepper to taste, plus add a touch of fresh chopped chervil and thyme to each bowl. Also great served with common or oyster crackeys crushed into the broth.
- Serve right away or any time. Warmed up the next day, it tastes even better.
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