Ordering New England Style Clam Chowder at a restaurant is an irresistible temptation for me. I always have to try it because everyone makes it a little different. My most common complaint is the lack of clams in many restaurant clam chowders, so I prepare my own whenever I have some extra cream on hand. My recipe balances the generous portion of clams with a satisfying amount of potatoes and clam juice to provide a briny flavor to this cream-based chowder. Steamed fresh clams can replace the canned clams if you have time or want to bring this recipe to the next level.
There are countless varieties of clam chowder - the most popular of which are called New England Style and Manhattan Style. Technically, Manhattan is in New England and Manhattan style is popular throughout the southern New England region. In any case, the label New England Style now means that the chowder has a cream or dairy base while Manhattan Style refers to a tomato base. The a brief Google search reveals that the terms Maine style (heavy cream), Rhode Island style (light cream / soupy), Oregon style (extremely thick), Yorktown style (containing beer or ale), and Southern style (more vegetables and spices with some Worcestershire sauce) are also used - but I have yet to see them served in a restaurant. Of course, some restaurants' New England Style clam chowders seem to fit the description of Oregon or Rhode Island style.
Classic New England Style Clam Chowder begins with salt pork, but since I live in California, I've started with the West Coast classic: bacon (this time in the form of bacon grease). But first, let's take a look at what other ingredients we'll need.
Begin with one pound of diced russet potatoes (about one large potato) and 1/2 cup onion (about 1/2 medium onion). You'll also need a tablespoon of all-purpose flour and two tablespoons of bacon grease. [IMG]
Drain the clams from two 10-ounce cans of clams (preferably canned in water, salt water, or broth - not oil). After draining, both cans should yield about a total of 10 ounces of clam meat. Also, prepare 8 ounces of clam juice. The flavor is better if you use bottled clam juice instead of the liquid the clams are packaged in, but if clam juice is unavailable, reserve 8 ounces of the liquid from the cans. [IMG]
Heat two tablespoons of bacon grease and saute the onions in the hot grease until translucent, but not browned. Bacon grease can be collected and stored after you cook bacon. If you don't have any bacon grease in your refrigerator, go ahead and cook about four slices of bacon in the pan and remove the bacon and any excess bacon grease (remember to store it for future use) before sauteing the onions. [IMG]
Add the diced potatoes and saute until all the potato has been coated by the fat. Throw in the tablespoon of flour and saute until the potatoes and onions have been coated. [IMG]
Pour in the cup of clam juice and bring to a boil while stirring. Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat so it just simmers with the lid on. Cook with the lid on for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. [IMG]
Prepare a mixture of one cup whole milk and one cup heavy cream. Half-and-half will also work as long as it's on the creamier side - if not, augmentation with some heavy cream may be necessary. The amount of fat is important for the texture of the chowder. Using only milk will result in a slightly thickened (due to the potato starch) watery consistency. Using only heavy cream will result in a really smooth, but much too rich chowder. The milk and cream mixture results in a cream fat concentration around 20%, producing what I think is the perfect consistency when served hot or warm. Using combinations of milk and cream to achieve this fat ratio helps us get to our desired consistency target. For example, some light whipping cream (about 18-30% fat content) has a fat content as low as 18%, so using straight light whipping cream of this type will provide us the desired amount of fat. [IMG]
Once the potato, onion, and clam juice mixture has simmered for 20 minutes, stir to redistribute the solids. [IMG]
Stir and heat through until hot, but not boiling. (Boiling may cause some of the milks solids to clump - but with 20% fat concentration this is less of a problem than if we were using straight milk. At around 30% or more fat, there is enough fat to prevent the clumping of the milk solids even while boiling.) While heating, this is right time to season with salt and pepper. Add salt a pinch at a time, stir, and taste. Repeat until you get the desired saltiness. It is important not to forget to add the salt and pepper - even though we have a lot of flavors in the chowder at this point, they will be muted without adding enough salt. [IMG]
Serve while hot. I like garnishing with a bit of fresh chopped parsley and some bacon pieces. [IMG]
Joined: 10 May 2005 Posts: 1618 Location: Austin, TX (USA)
Posted: Sat May 28, 2005 6:49 pm Post subject: Roux first?
Well, the roux first method does work well, but I can't taste the difference in clam chowder (as opposed to, let's say, gumbo where the roux reaches a brick color). Not producing real roux makes this recipe easy to do in one pot. In the roux first method, the potatoes can't easily be cooked in the bechamel without causing the dairy to clump - too much heat for too long. So, you cook the potatoes separate. But then what you end up with is:
1. Precook potatoes in water, drain.
2. Lightly saute onions in grease, remove from pot.
3. Add flour to grease to form roux, cook.
4. Add cream/milk and clam juice and bring to simmer
5. Add precooked potatoes, onions, and clams
6. Heat through, season, serve.
Simple enough, but cooking the potatoes and onions separate is just an unnecessary step and uses multiple pots (unless you are cooking the chowder in your potato boiling pot -- which means an extra rinsing step and you'll be using a much larger pot for the chowder).
However, it should be mentioned that if you are using pure heavy cream, you can probably cook the potatoes in that without worrying about curds forming because of the higher fat content. The only problem I have with that, is that it's a bit too rich for me.
Joined: 13 May 2005 Posts: 12 Location: Tustin, CA
Posted: Mon May 30, 2005 4:53 pm Post subject:
My family LOVES New England Clam Chowder! If we are out to dinner on a Friday night, that's the one thing we will all agree on ordering! The "ideal" is a soup that's thick enough, but not too thick...Your recipe sounds easy enough to want to try. I agree, ease of preparation is key, especially when busy enough with work, school, and kid chauffeuring hither and yon. :?
Too busy with the kid's basketball tournament in LA this weekend, but I will definitely give this recipe a try soon!
Joined: 10 May 2005 Posts: 1618 Location: Austin, TX (USA)
Posted: Tue May 31, 2005 5:41 pm Post subject:
When you don't want the onions and whatnot to brown aren't you dealing with a sweat and not a saute?
Yes and no. A sweat is always performed over low heat with the intention of cooking the substance in their own juices (that will flow out and collect as they heat). Often, you'll press foil down onto the ingredients to help retain the moisture as they heat. Sometimes, the term sweat is used loosely for whenever you wish to heat aromatics without browning, but in reality - it's often just a quick saute that's performed. Generally, I consider that if juices collect, then it's sweating - if it's still relatively dry, you're sauteing.
In this recipe, we're cooking the onions just a bit to soften them up for their soak in the clam juice where they will liquify. We're not actually trying to sweat them out in this recipe.
Have you considered putting the approximate number of servings on your recipes? I am having a tough time figureing out how many people could be served with one batch of chowda.
Sorry, I forgot! I've added the servings for this dish: serves 6.
Posted: Wed Jun 01, 2005 4:05 am Post subject: Roux first theory
It seems to me that cooking the roux with the potatoes is equivalent to the "roux first" method, because the purpose of cooking the roux first is met, namely, you are incorporating the flour with the fat first, before liquids are added. If you toss the potatoes coated with flour around in butter or bacon grease, you also cook the flour to some degree. (Cooking it longer in this state "toasts" the flour and should give a browner roux.)
When the liquid is finally added, the sauce will not be lumpy or taste like raw flour. For some reason, if you can actually get the flour to mix directly with a water-based liquid, it still never really toasts up and tastes right.
The important criteria that are behind the "roux first" rule are met, as long as the potatoes aren't too watery, so I would vote to keep the recipe as it stands.