New England Clam Chowdah

So, for my second blog, I will combine two of my favorite things, soup, and seafood. Yes, today’s thoughts are of ‘chowdah’… the New England style clam chowder popular in these parts. I always refer to the New England style as ‘chowdah’ and the Manhattan version as ‘chowder’.

This is really a fairly simple straight forward soup consisting of:

  • 1 can of chopped clams
  • 2 rashers of bacon rough diced
  • 2 large ribs of celery rough diced
  • 2 medium carrots rough diced
  • 3 red potatoes cubed
  • 1 pat of butter
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup half and half
  • ½ pint of white mushrooms rough diced
  • Sea salt

I start by rendering two rasher of thick cut bacon diced, then, add the diced mushrooms to brown with medium heat on the stove. Then toss in the pat of butter, let that fully melt, then whisk in the flour to create a roux. I generally cook it to a blond roux because gentlemen prefer blonds (or so I’ve heard).

Once the roux has developed, I add a little of the water to deglaze the pot. Then I toss in the potatoes and add more water to just cover them. Let them get a little head start in the pot with a shake or two of sea salt, after a few minutes add the diced celery and carrots and bay leaves and enough water to cover them.

Once the veggies have softened a bit, and the broth becomes fragrant, reduce the heat to a simmer and add in the half and half, and the can of clams. Now, I prefer not to drain the can, I add the liquid straight into the pot with the clams. Let this blend in and meld with the rest of the ingredients.

When the chowdah is ready, I like to serve it in a wide, somewhat shallow bowl. But before ladling the soup into the bowl, I toast up a slice or two per bowl of any left over Italian bread. I put these toasts in the bowl, and then ladle the chowdah over them, but most folks are happy to stick with oyster crackers. This is also an opportunity to use up any left over biscuits that might be lying around, placing them in the bowl before the chowdah.

I have found that creating the roux at the start of the process goes a long way in creating the thick and creamy texture that I like at the end of the process. Now, there are some cooks who prefer to thicken their chowdahs not with roux, but by using more, starchier potatoes, like Idaho’s, and mashing some of them in the cooking process to release their additional starch, but I find those chowdah too lumpy and not silky.

Now, as to the bacon, I use the thick cut rashers which I find at Western Beef market. This chain of grocery stores features a large meat department in a separate room off the main store and you have to walk through one of those thick plastic strip-doors to get to it. It’s always nice and cold in there. Some more traditional recipes use salt pork instead of bacon as the fat of choice for the chowdah. This is a good use for salt pork, but I tend to prefer the ‘smokiness’ that the bacon brings.

The mushrooms are not a needed part of the chowdah, and I only add them to stretch the bacon and clam ingredients. I find that I can get the mushrooms on sale for about a dollar to a dollar fifty per pint. If you skip the mushroom, then add an extra rasher of bacon, and another can of clams.

Well, here’s hoping that you decided to bring a bit of the seashore in-doors the next time the weather turns chilly…

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