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~ Creamy New England-Style Clam&Corn Chowder ~

IMG_3427Chowder is a soup that is thick and brimming with chunky seafood.  It comes from the French word "chaudiere", which refers to the cauldron fishermen make their fresh stews in (with clam chowder being the most popular and the most famous).  New England-style clam chowder is made old-English-style, with cream or milk, and, the broth is rich and silky, NOT, overly thickened with tasteless flour.  Manhattan-style clam chowder (which will be another blog post at a future date) is made with a seasoned, tomato-based broth.  Either style can contain any of several varieties of seafood and vegetables.  Chopping, dicing or mincing the clams is a matter of personal taste.  My recipe for New England-style clam chowder meets all of the criteria: creamy, rich, silky smooth and chocked full of chunky seafood and vegetables -- it is sublime. 

ImagesMy friends in and from New England will probably have a

conniption (a fit of rage, hysteria or alarm)

when they read this next part, but, I'm here to tell you: canned clams really can be substituted for freshly steamed ones with little real compromise in texture or flavor.  How dare I be so bold?  Well my foodies, I make clam chowder both ways.  There are times when Joe and I order a 25-pound bag of top neck or cherrystone clams for the sole purpose of making clam chowder.  Agreed, it is the best.  Other times, we just want clam chowder NOW and have no intention of waiting for the FedEx man to arrive, so, I make it with canned clams.  Not once has anyone lodged a complaint about either "chowdah"!!!

A little bit of New England clam chowder history:

ClamsClams, called "quahogs' in New England,  is from the Narragansett Indian name for them, "poquahock." The scientific name for clams, "mercenaria" comes from the Latin word for "wages".  Native Americans traded clam shells as money, or, "wampum". English settlers to New England, brought along their recipes for fish-milk stews and soon began replacing clams for fish.  Their name for it:  New England clam chowder.

2933356-Union_Oyster_House_2006_BostonBy 1836, clam chowder was on the menu at Ye Olde Union Oyster House in Boston, which is our nation's oldest continuously operating restaurant.  The building is 250 years old, and Daniel Webster, the noted lawyer and orator of the time, who also served as a Congressman and Secretary of State, was a regular at their bar.   He was known to down a tumbler of brandy and water with every plate of six oysters -- and he always ordered at least six plates of six oysters before retiring for the evening.  Why oysters?  Read on: 

A little bit of oyster cracker history too:

IMG_3391Oyster crackers are small, round, salted crackers that, in New England, are served as an accompaniment to oyster stew and clam chowder.  The "original" kind (pictured on the left) are quite hard and taste similar to saltine crackers, just less salty.  The "newer" kind (pictured on the right) are mini-saltines.  Joe likes the ones on the left, I like the ones on the right.

Otc_(1981)The "original" kind were introduced in Trenton, NJ, in 1848, by an English immigrant, Adam Exton.  Exton conceived the idea of baking a cracker that could be served in oyster stew and stay crisp to the last bite.  In those days, oysters were as popular as shrimp are today, and, as the saying back in those days went:  "Six oysters a day will help keep the doctor away!"

The "OTC" brand, or "Original Trenton Cracker" was born in Exton's home kitchen.  He sold his crackers from the back of his wagon along the Trenton streets.  The business grew as the craze for oysters did, and, by the 1860's he owned the Exton Cracker Bakery.  It became famous during the civil war because they were the supplier of these crackers to the entire Union army.  

Before starting:  Read this next part carefully & do the math.

IMG_3038Let me start by saying that my recipe makes a lot:  

10 quarts in a 16-quart stockpot.  

Let me ease your mind by telling you I have written the recipe so you can easily make half:

5 quarts in an 8-quart stockpot.  

That being said, I almost always make the big batch.  Why?  Well, I almost always make it at this time of year, either for tailgate or Thanksgiving, when I have a big crowd to feed (20-30+ people).

IMG_3041For the big batch you will need:

12 cups steamed & shucked clams, about 25-30 dozen, 2-2 1/2" clams, OR:

12 cups well-drained canned clams, from 4, 50-ounce cans, reserve all liquid when draining

Today, I'm using both (half of each):

6 cups of freshly steamed clams and 6 cups of canned clams (from 2, 50-ounce cans, liquid reserved).

Now it's time to make a big batch of my clam & corn "chowdah".

IMG_3299For the big batch, besides the clams, you will need:

1  pound diced yellow or sweet onion

1  pound diced celery

2  ounces minced garlic cloves, or 2  tablespoons garlic powder

2  pounds peeled and diced carrots

8  cups peeled and diced gold potatoes, about 1, 5-pound bag

1  pound thick-sliced bacon, diced

4  ounces butter (1 stick)

2  16-ounce bags frozen corn

1 1/4  cups Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

48  ounces chicken stock, preferably homemade or canned broth (6 cups)

32  ounces bottled clam juice (4 cups), OR, 4 cups reserved liquid from canned clams

16  ounces white wine (2 cups)

6  whole, medium-sized bay leaves

1  teaspoon celery seed

1/2  teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, more or less, to taste

1  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1  tablespoon dried thyme leaves

1  tablespoon sea salt, more or less, to taste

1  teaspoon white pepper

32  ounces heavy or whipping cream (4 cups)

a sprinkling of ground cayenne pepper, per serving, for garnish (optional)

1/2-1  teaspoon minced, fresh parsley, per serving, for garnish (optional)

oyster crackers, your favorite brand, at tableside (optional)

IMG_3306~ Step 1.  Prep the onion, celery, carrots and garlic as directed and set aside.  Prep the bacon as directed and set aside.  Note:  All of these tasks can be done a day in advance of cooking the chowder.

~ Step 2.  When you're ready to cook the chowder, prep the potatoes as directed, place them in a bowl with enough cold water to cover them and set aside.

IMG_3310 IMG_3318~ Step 3. Place bacon in stockpot over medium-high heat and fry, stirring frequently, until it is crisp, about 8-10 minutes. Turn heat off.  Using a large slotted spoon, remove the bacon from the drippings and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

IMG_3327 IMG_3322                                           ~ Step 4. Place the butter into the hot bacon drippings and allow it to melt.  Stir in the onions, celery, carrots and garlic.  

Adjust heat to medium-high and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until onion is soft and translucent, about 8-10 minutes.  

IMG_3334 IMG_3329                                      ~ Step 5.  Stir in the bacon, frozen corn, and flour.  

Continue to cook, stirring almost constantly, an additional 4-6 minutes.  Mixture will be thick and steaming.

IMG_3338~ Step 6.  Add the chicken stock, clam juice and wine.  While mixture is returning to a simmer, stir in the bay leaves, celery seed, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, thyme leaves, salt and white pepper.  

IMG_3340~ Step 7. When the mixture is simmering, drain & add the potatoes.

Adjust heat to simmer gently, until carrots and potatoes are just short of fork-tender (al dente) about 14-18 minutes.

IMG_3365Note:  At this point, soup can be covered and refrigerated a day ahead of "finish cooking". Remove from refrigerator and return to room temperature, 1-2 hours.  Slowly and over low heat, bring to a gentle, steady simmer and proceed as follows:

IMG_3374 IMG_3387~ Step 8. Stir the clams into the simmering soup and adjust heat to an extremely gentle simmer.  Stir in the cream.  Do not allow to simmer or boil.  When mixture is steaming, ladle the hot chowder into warmed serving bowls and serve garnished w/red pepper & parsley, accompanied by oyster crackers, passed at tableside!

IMG_3398Creamy New England-Style Clam&Corn Chowder:  Recipe yields 10 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 16-quart stockpot; large slotted spoon; paper towels; large spoon; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b015390b777ec970b-800wi 6a0120a8551282970b01543498b678970c-320wiCook's Note: For another one of my very special clam recipes + all of my instructions for how to properly clean and steam fresh clams, click into Categories 1, 8 or 14 and read ~ Tarragon, Sweet Onion & Red Pepper Butter for:  Melanie's Wine-Steamed Clams or King Crab Legs ~

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


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