New England Clam Chowder

Happy Cyber Monday! I’m trying to avoid the internets all together today in the hopes of not being sucked into the cra cra deals out there, and abiding by Patagonia’s mantra, “Don’t Buy What You Don’t Need.” (Don’t you worry Winner family members, you needed a lot over the weekend though.)

How was your Thanksgiving? I spent a wonderfully quiet four whole days at home in Seattle. Besides 10 or so dizzying minutes (literally) of iPad Face Time East Coast Family Thanksgiving Chaos, it was the most boring weekend ever. And that was just perfect. I’m not sure I’ve ever taken a few days off to stay home. Usually my vacation days are jam-packed with cross country travel, house guests, or road trips. I have a new appreciation for a few days to relax and actually enjoy living in my own house. And I cooked up a storm.

So here is a little story that you might get a kick out of. Allegedly, when I was a kid, I had a sort of stubborn streak. Allegedly. SUE! tells the story of lamenting to the pediatrician about how difficult I was to deal with as a 2 year old, and him giving her a book called “The Strong Willed Child.” I apparently spent not insignificant portions of time standing, facing into a corner (the 1970’s version of Time Out) screaming “GET ME OUT OF THIS PLACE!” And as she tells it, sometimes the only way to end a temper tantrum was to pin me down and brush my hair. I do still love a good head petting.

Right about the time that I realized that I all I had to do while banished to the corner was turn around and walk away, I developed a propensity for door slamming. Usually my bedroom door. Usually hard enough to make the whole house shake. My Dad would have none of these shenanigans. You see, he’s not much for theatrics. Or bargaining with unruly “strong willed” children. I would slam the living daylights out of the door and sulk in my bedroom over whatever horrid injustice had just occurred – half mad as hell, half having a little inner chuckle at how shrewd I was to show them that I meant business. Imagine my shock and absolute disgust the first time this little pity party was abruptly cut short by the unmistakable sound of my Dad’s footsteps coming up the stairs, followed by the loud sliding scratch of the heavy farmhouse door being lifted up and off the hinges, and carefully propped up against the hallway wall next to my bedroom. Without a word, he’d turn around and walk back down stairs, and pick up right where he left off doing whatever it was that my tirade had interrupted.

Suffice to say it was effective. Though being the brat that I was, there were a few years there where my door was off the hinges more than it was on. He had a good, long run until one day I got clever (and tall enough) and hung a Mickey Mouse bed sheet across the doorway to restore some of my coveted ‘tween privacy. I think that coincided with his tactic of unplugging my bedroom phone and hiding it, but I can’t be sure. Ah, the days phones that were corded to the wall.

Anyway, the point is, I’ve never been much of a conformist. So this Thanksgiving weekend, while there was no door slamming, I didn’t make a single traditional Thanksgiving dish. No turkey, no stuffing, no mashed potatoes. (Though I made a potato and fennel gratin that was about 9,000x better than mashed potatoes.) And instead of eating turkey leftovers for four days straight, I made Clam Chowder. Stressed from four days of relaxation, and faced with the task of using the food that was in the fridge to make dinner, I could think of nothing better to do with celery, carrots, onions, and fresh thyme than make New England Clam Chowder. Ya, I had had a glass of wine or three, so obviously my problem solving skills were compromised.

Chowder is a big thing out in Seattle. I’m not really sure why, but it’s almost bigger here than in New England. Every restaurant here has their “Award Winning” Chowder front and center on their menu. Either there are more chowder contests than days of the year, or someone is fibbing. Well I’d put this recipe up against any “Blue Ribbon” Chowder. (Or Chowda for the east coasters.) While this iteration is clammy, it would be delicious retooled as a Seafood Chowder with shrimp, scallops, and fish. It really didn’t take that long to make either, and while most soups need hours to really develop flavors, this one tasted delicious practically immediately. While some chowders are so thick they stick to an upside-down spoon, this one is the perfect creamy consistency to combat a cold day. Harness your inner rebel and come up with an excuse to make it. It’s a much better way to lash out than slamming doors. Enjoy!

New England Clam Chowder

Click here to print this recipe.
Adapted from: Bon Appétit, November 2000
Serves: 6-8
Time to prepare: 45 minutes

2 8-ounce bottles clam juice
1.5 pound russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon butter
4-5 slices bacon, chopped into about 1/4-inch pieces
2 cups chopped onions
1 1/4 cups chopped celery with leaves (about 2 large stalks)
1 cup chopped carrots (about two medium)
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed in a garlic press
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
3 6 1/2-ounce cans chopped clams, drained, juices reserved
1 1/4 cups half and half
1 teaspoon sriracha hot pepper sauce (optional)
1 teaspoon Worcester sauce

Bring bottled clam juice and potatoes to boil in heavy large saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add thyme sprigs.

Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until bacon begins to brown, about 8 minutes.

Add onions, celery, carrots, garlic and bay leaf and sauté until vegetables soften, about 10 minutes.

Stir in flour and cook 2 minutes (do not allow flour to brown).

Gradually whisk in reserved juices from clams.

Add potato mixture, one ladle full at a time, stirring constantly. Add clams, half and half, Worcester sauce, and sriracha.

Simmer chowder 5 minutes to blend flavors, stirring frequently. Remove thyme stems and bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated. Bring to simmer before serving.

When you are adding the reserved clam juice to the floured vegetables, you’re making a roux. This culinary magic trick combines fat (in this case bacon grease and butter) with flour to create a thickening agent. If you don’t cook the flour and fat mixture, your soup will taste flour-y. So be sure to mix it in well and cook, stirring, for a few minutes before adding the clam sauce. Then get out a whisk (preferably flat if you have one) and very gradually add the clam juice – like starting with a few tablespoons at a time. Whisk well until the liquid has completely incorporated and the paste is smooth, then add a little more. Keep adding the liquid, a few tablespoons at a time, until you’ve incorporated all the reserved clam juice. Note that it’s important to only add cold or room temperature liquids to your roux; hot liquid will just cause the roux to dissolve and your soup won’t thicken at all. (So don’t use the warmed potato/clam juice liquid, use the drained off liquid from the cans of clams.)

Even if you’re not a fan of hot food, add a little hot sauce. It helps develop another layer to the flavor, and if you don’t use much, you won’t even notice it. Start with a dash if you’re afraid of the heat, and add and taste until you reach your desired flavor. Sriracha is my hot sauce of choice. You can get it in the international section of most grocery stores, and it’s in a clear bottle with a white rooster on the front and a green cap. It’s my favorite condiment – it regularly goes on stir fries, soups, scrambled eggs, sandwiches, meats, veggies. Scratch that. It goes on everything.

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1 comment

  1. […] It’s worth noting that this child rearing approach put the absolute Capital “F” Fear of God into me. Oh, it worked all right. The thought of letting down Dad was enough to make me beg for a real, honest-to-goodness grounding. I was practically begging him to take my bedroom door off the hinges. […]

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