America’s Culinary Food Stories-New England Clam Chowder
by Jovina Coughlin
From Manhattan to New England, clam chowder is known for its competing varieties as much as for its comforting briny flavor. It seems every state on the East Coast has its own take on the popular soup.
New England clam chowder is the most well-known and popular clam chowder. Though it’s named after New England and associated most with Massachusetts and Maine, food historians believe that French, Nova Scotian, or British settlers introduced the soup to the area and it became a common dish by the 1700s. The soup continued to gain popularity throughout the years and, according to “What’s Cooking America”, was being served in Boston at Ye Olde Union Oyster House (the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the country) by 1836.
New England clam chowder, occasionally called “Boston Clam Chowder,” is made with the usual clams and potatoes, but it also has a milk or cream base. It is usually thick and hearty; Today. the soup can be found all over the country but is still most popular in the North East.
New England Clam Chowder
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
3 strips thick-cut bacon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 medium leek, washed and sliced
2 celery ribs with tops cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon seafood seasoning (Old Bay)
3 medium-size white potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (optional, you can thicken the soup by using double cream and cut down on the seafood stock)
4 cups seafood stock or bottled clam juice, divided
1 pound chopped fresh clam meat with juices or 2 (6.5 oz) cans of clams in broth
Kosher salt to taste
2 cups half & half
1 teaspoon white pepper
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish
Place a 4- to 6-quart pot over medium-low heat. Add the bacon and cook, turning occasionally, until crisp, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the bacon, leaving the fat in the pot, and crumble into small pieces onto a plate; set aside.
Add the butter, onion, leek, celery, thyme, seafood seasoning and bay leaves to the pot. Cook, stirring often, until onions and potatoes are tender, 6 to 8 minutes.
Return the bacon to the pot and increase the heat to medium-low.
Dissolve the flour in 1 cup of the clam broth or seafood stock. Add the mixture gradually, stirring continuously, until incorporated. Stir and cook 5 minutes. (or you can take the worry about lumpy soup by not using it at all!)
Increase the heat to medium and slowly add the remaining clam broth or stock, 1 cup at a time, incorporating it into the mixture before adding more.
Increase the heat to medium-high and add the clam meat with its juices. Keep stirring 5 minutes, until the clams are tender.
Add the cream slowly; then stir in the white pepper.
Discard the bay leaves before serving. Garnish each serving with chopped parsley.
Many USA supermarkets carry frozen, chopped clam meat in 1-pound containers, which is fresher than canned and just as convenient. Simply defrost before using.
My comments: I’ve had the pleasure of having several different versions of clam chowder in various parts of the USA and the creamy version without added tomatoes is my favourite. I’ve had it in New England and San Francisco. I can’t remember where I had the one that had tomatoes in it, but I was rather disappointed. How you make this soup will depend on how low you wish to cut carbs and how tolerant of wheat you are. Clam chowder is very filling so you will need only light accompaniments eg a salad or fruit.