Recipe: Clam Chowder (New England Style)

It's literally a hug in soup form. That bread bowl? That's the added blanket of comfort. 

When I had my surgery in July, I was on a strict soft food diet. I did some prep cooking and froze it but didn't realize that all the food I froze didn't qualify as "soft food". So Carl had to run to the grocery and I told him to just choose items to make it easier for him to prepare meals. So he bought a lot of fries (because he said potatoes were "soft"), some soft bread, some Jell-O, and a lot of canned soup. One of the soups we really enjoyed was the clam chowder - but it was hella salty. So I promised him that once I'm able to move and cook again, I'd make him a fresh batch. 

It also didn't help that when I was resting in bed getting stronger, I'd watch all these food shows and one in particular was an episode dedicated solely to the cuisine of Boston. Of course, when they mentioned the "clam chowder", they HAD to mention the one at San Franciso too, specifically at Pier 39. I've had both, by the way. And also some in Old Sacramento. But I gotta give it to the "Beantown" Bostonians... they serve up some good ol' chow-dah. 

Clam Chowder, despite of the actual origins, we can definitely say it was introduced to us by the East Coast. There have been some claims that it was introduced to New York by the a number of settlers... the British, French, and even Canadians...sorry, I meant Nova Scotians and Haligonians (people from Halifax). A chowder according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is defined as "a soup or stew of seafood (such as clams or fish) usually made with milk or tomatoes, salt pork, onions, and other vegetables (such as potatoes)". You could say that quite a number of states have had their spoon in the pot. You've got the Manhattan-style chowder (red in color, made with tomatoes and briny), the New England-style (thick and creamy with bacon and potatoes), the Rhode Island-style (specifically made with quahogs, another clam type), New Jersey-style (with creamed asparagus, bacon, and Old Bay seasoning), and a whole lot more. 

Whatever version you choose, you're sure of some things. It sure tastes awesome, it does warm up your belly, and it will definitely promise you a good night's sleep. (Carb overload....)

Clam Chowder (New England Style)
This makes about 6 servings of clam chowder. If you use larger bread bowls, probably around 4 servings.

You'll need a heavy-bottom stock pot or dutch oven (at least 3.8 L capacity),  a medium sauce pot, chopping board, knife, wooden spoon, whisk, strainer, a couple of bowls, and some plates for your mise-en-place.

1 white onion, chopped
2-3 stalks of celery, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
5 strips of smoked bacon, chopped
1 tbsp butter (salted or unsalted)
1 medium red potato, cubed
1 russet potato, cubed
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried parsley
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp garlic powder (I only used the powder version because I didn't want to bite into any garlic pieces.)
3 cans baby clams or chopped clams, drained (Save that clam juice! I used the 142g cans, clams soaked in water. You'll roughly need about 450-500g overall. )
1 bottle of clam juice (236ml)

2.5 cups half-and-half (you can use cooking cream and milk instead)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 a stick of butter (salted or unsalted)

about 1-2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (to taste, so add a few dashes first and taste if it's good enough for you)
salt and pepper
chopped fresh parsley to top before serving

*Optional: bread bowls (you can use sourdough bread or Italian bread buns)

1. Mise-en-place. Chop up your onions, celery, and bacon. Set aside. Chop the potatoes into cubes, soak in water and set aside. Open up your clam cans, strain the liquid but save the liquid, set aside.

2. Heat up your heavy-bottom pot or dutch oven to medium heat. Render (a cooking technique to cook in it's own fat) the bacon pieces until slightly browned then add your onions and celery, continue until onions are translucent.

3. Strain the potatoes (throw out the liquid) and add them to the pot. Add the butter and sauté for about 7 minutes. Add the bay leaf, the strained clam juice, and the additional clam juice, stir and scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen the fond (French term meaning "base" or "foundation", the browned up bits stuck in the bottom of the pan). Simmer for 5-7 minutes again. 

4. While waiting for the mixture to simmer, let's make the roux. In a smaller sauce pot, melt the butter on medium and add the flour. Use a spatula or a whisk and let this cook for about 2 minutes, making sure it doesn't toast and brown. Add half of the half-and-half and continue stirring, this will thicken. Once thick, remove from the heat and set aside. 

5. Going back to the main pot, add the clam meat, thyme, parsley, and garlic powder and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add a couple of spoonfuls of the roux mixture and let it thicken. Add the rest of the half-and-half and continue to simmer. Add the rest of the roux mixture, whisking slowly to remove any of the roux lumps. You can lower the here too. Let this simmer until all the roux has been mixed in and the chowder is thick and creamy. 

6. Before serving, add a dash (or two) of Worcestershire sauce, a dash of parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. I found that I had to add about 2-3 pinches of salt to achieve the desired taste. (Make sure to take out the bay leaf... you'll have to fish for it.)

7. Serve on a toasted bread bowl or a bowl and top with chopped fresh parsley and some oyster crackers or croutons. 

8. ENJOY!!! And let your belly get real warm!

*You can definitely eat this in a bowl BUT.... you can also definitely get some smaller sourdough bread buns. Just cut the top, dig a hole, and pop in the oven so it's nice and toasty. Great to add crunch and such an efficient scooping tool too.

**You can add shrimp if you'd like. It won't be a true clam chowder but more seafood chowder then. Oooohhh!! Add some corn kernels too while you're at it!

***This dish is very heavy in dairy. If you want to lessen the dairy content, you can do with a mixture of more roux, less cream/milk (or use low-fat milk), and replace the most of the dairy liquid with a vegetable, fish, or chicken stock if you'd like. I know some people can't take much dairy and for sure, this will make your tummy grumble a bit more if you had it on the recipe-amount of cream. So go for a low-fat milk source, use stock instead, and thicken with the roux. 

****If you can't find any sourdough bread for bowls, you can also use larger Italian buns. Just toast it so it's dryer and can hold more of the moisture. Funny enough, it's the "sourdough bread bowl" that makes this dish distinctly from San Franciso. It was said to com from there, from Boudin (it's still there, by the way!). Sourdough bread works well with chowder because it's dense and can hold it's form, with a great crust you can use to scoop up later on. Plus it's just extra yummy. But of course, with the world today, everyone's counting carbs and skipping on the bread altogether. Don't worry too much... you don't have this everyday!!! Indulge a little. You're at home anyways... in pajamas, most likely (like me). Go for that extra walk if you're feeling guilty. 

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