Sunday, December 13, 2009
There is absolutely nothing more perfect than a bowl of hot chowdah (you've got to say it that way) for lunch. It warms you from the inside out on those cold, dreary winter days, where thick socks are more of a necessity than a comfort. My kids love chowder, especially the clam variety....never, ever tomato based, of course. We are New Englanders after all (by blood, if not permanent residence--yet) and New York style chowder is decidedly not appropriate for this occasion. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's not appropriate for any occasion....but I am biased, if you haven't figured that out already.
We enjoy this treat all summer long, when fresh clams are plentiful (and free), but in winter, when we really need to have it, we make do with canned clams. It could be worse, really. I don't find canned clams to be particularly tinny or or overly chewy, but the much romanticized hunting/gathering part of the chowder is lost, to be sure. In the summer all we need for fresh clams is 5 minutes, and the willingness to dig in the muck. But clams from a can are an acceptable alternative and are quicker, cleaner and work in a pinch. Your fishmonger may carry freshly shucked clams too. It doesn't hurt to ask.
I like my chowder to be chock full of chunky potatoes, bacon and with minimal clams. So I only added a paltry 3 cans of clams, which equals approximately 1 1/4 cups of shucked clams. But if you're really in love with them, then by all means add more...but I think there's still plenty of flavor from all that clam juice. Some folks like their chowder thick, some like it thin. I fall somewhere in between and thicken it just a bit with flour, but not too much. I also favor half and half instead of heavy cream because it's not so rich.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Yield: serves 6
4 slices of thick-cut, nitrate free bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
4 cups of peeled, russet potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 3 large)
2 (8 ounce) bottles of clam juice
6 cups of half and half
1/4 cup flour
3 (6.5 ounce) cans of chopped clams in juice, drain and reserve juice
Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until it is crisp and fat is rendered. Remove bacon from pot and reserve and turn heat to low. Add celery and onion and cook for 7 minutes or until vegetables are tender and translucent.
Add potatoes to the pot, along with all the clam juice from the bottles and cans (except for 1/2 a cup) and raise heat to high. Bring clam juice to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Meanwhile, whisk the remaining clam juice with the flour to make a slurry and set aside.
When the potatoes are tender, whisk in the slurry until thoroughly combined. Simmer for 3 minutes more to thicken soup slightly. Add the half and half and clams and heat for 5 more minutes. Do not boil. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary. Top with reserved bacon and don't forget the oyster crackers.