Tuesday, 6 December 2011

New England Clam Chowder on the Fly

Clam chowder is one of my absolute favorite things in the world. When I was young and set in my ways (as opposed to now when I am slightly older and set in my ways), I would pretty much always order the same thing to eat when I went out with my parents: grilled cheese and clam chowder. And I mean New England clam chowder. If there is one thing that will vamp up my New Englander pride more than anything else, its the superiority of our chowder. Thick, creamy and delicious with big chunks of tasty veggies and clams...that's how a chowder should be.

That being said, it occurs to me that I don't think I have ever made clam chowder before. I know my mother has a recipe for a low-carb chowder (made when we were all on the Atkins diet a million years ago), but I don't think I ever even made that recipe. Despite that, Sunday night my mother mentioned that she had collected the ingredients for clam chowder and Monday night I found myself flying blindly, yet somehow confidently, into my first attempt. Clam chowder is a passion of mine, surely I could just make it by instinct.

I searched the fridge and freezer for bacon but none was to be found. That was really my only setback for the evening and easily solved when my father suggested rendering some salami he was currently slicing up for a pre-dinner snack. Once I had something to sautee my veggies in, I chopped up 3 peeled potatoes, 6 stalks of celery, half an onion, 3 peeled carrots and a partridge in a pear tree. Everything got mixed up with a spoonful of minced garlic. Once all the veggies were nicely mixed up and starting to get their cook on, I poured in water/clam juice that I drained from my large can of clams and set everything to simmer for a while.

In the large soup pot, I started to make my roux. I melted two whole sticks of butter (this chowder sure wasn't going to be healthy but it was going to be rich) and whisked in about a cup and a half of flour until it was thick and smooth. I slowly whisked in Half and Half until I got the consistency I wanted.

It was around this time my mother came into the kitchen and said "Do you know what you're doing?" and I answered honestly, "Nope."

I turned the heat off of my roux and made a little over two cups of clam broth using some clam base, which I kept set aside. I kept checking my veggies while they were simmering away until I could easily slice a large hunk of potato with a spoon. Then, one ladle-full at a time, I added my veggies (including the clam juice), my clam broth and the now-drained can of clams to my roux. I turned the heat back on and kept it on just long enough for everything to mix up and heat through. While I was mixing I added fresh cracked pepper, garlic salt and a little Old Bay seasoning. Right before turning off the heat and serving, I stirred in a bit of red wine vinegar.

Although I can never be 100% pleased with my cooking results, I was pretty excited more than anything else about the consistency. I wanted a nice, thick chowder and that's what I got. It needed a bit more seasoning, but that can always easily be adjusted bowl by bowl, whereas trying to thicken a chowder after its done would probably end disastrously. I've had it for lunch the last two days and is the perfect thing for a dark, rainy Connecticut December.

Honestly, I think the thing I am most disappointed in is my pictures for this entry. Since renewing my blog mojo I have been looking at other blogs and the photos I have been seeing make me understand why people use the term "food porn". Maybe I should stop using my cell phone and break out an actual camera.

I think this post might be the closest entry I have so far to being an actual recipe, since I did try to mention measurements when I could. Question for my reader(s) for the future: would anyone actually use a recipe if I tried to write down what I was doing during one of my "flying by the sea of my pants" cooking adventures?


  1. Depends on how tasty it comes out ;-)

  2. So I'm searching the Internet for a clam chowder recipe and I find a few I like to pull from and then had the thought, "Hey, didn't Steph make a really good chowder?" Yes, I found it and will use it! Thanks. I'll let you know how it turns out though as you know me, I will probably make many changes :) Right now the 2 sticks of butter is too rich for Lent... and no bacon... the horrors! And I have a small mason jar full of bacon fat to tempt me. Though, I do have the same clam base waiting to be used. What do you think of corn in your New England Clam Chowder?

    1. Meh. Not really a fan of corn in my soups.

  3. Oh, btw, your blog time is off by three hours. It is now 8:32.