Anyone who's a true fan of The Simpsons most likely remembers the episode in season 5 where Mayor Quimby's nephew belittles the French waiter for his pronunciation of the word chowder. Chowderre, the waiter says with a hefty roll of the r's. Quimby loses it and demands through his howling laughter and Jersey accent that the Frenchy say it right, it's chyowdah.
I've become a huge fan of reenacting the scene. Cries of chyowdah have been escaping my lips on a fairly constant basis lately. Sometimes it's random, like when riding the escalator at the movie theater and feeling the sudden urge to shake my fist and holler unexpected nonsense, and sometimes it's provoked by any mention or notice of the word chowder or the food itself.
Sorry to disappoint those of you who maintained faith in my maturity.
As you may have guessed from these photos, I went ahead and made a little chowder of my own. New England clam, to be precise. This was my first attempt at putting together the dish, and I think my back deserves a little patting. It turned out to be some of the best food I've ever made.
The inspiration came, initially, from my favorite person in the world. That's a pretty weighty title, in my opinion, so when she said how much she loooovessss clam chowder, of course my first instinct was to wrestle up some shellfish and make home-girl some soup.
Obviously, the most important thing to consider when making clam chowder is the seafood itself. Quality and freshness are two words to keep in mind. Living in the Pacific Northwest, I'm fortunate enough to have an abundance of high quality, fresh off the boat seafood at my disposal year round.
Being the lucky girl that I am, I had a thirty dollar coupon in my possession for the Pike Place Fish Co. These are the world-famous fish throwing folks at Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle. They'll serve you up your seafood and give you a show. Being the savvy girl that I am, I'd shelled out only fifteen bucks for the purchase of said coupon.
Now, now. Don't be jealous.
So the boys at PPFC hooked it up with live clams and Pacific spot prawns for the chowder. I also grabbed some red snapper which became another meal entirely. Satisfaction is an understatement for the glory induced by the weight of that bag's oceanic contents. We were all smiles on the walk home from the market.
Now, the true secret to the success of this chowder lies in both the use of fresh clams (rather than canned - gross) and homemade stock. Don't let that last part scare you. Stock is pretty much the easiest thing you can make, and the flavor is so worth it.
I used the shells from the spot prawns to make my stock, and I'm convinced that this is what led to the happy dance I performed upon tasting the completed soup. My feet just couldn't contain themselves.
New England Clam Chowder -
Pacific Northwest Style
1 lb. fresh clams
3/4 lb. Spot Prawns
1 qt. water
8 large garlic cloves, crushed
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
pinch of cayenne
3 T. unsalted butter
1 celery stalk, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 T. flour
2 C. gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 C. heavy cream
fresh ground black pepper
chives, minced (for garnish)
- Scrub the clams to get rid of dirt, and put half of them in the fridge for later. Peel the prawns, reserving the shells, roughly chop the meat, and place it in the fridge with the reserved clams.
- Put the prawn shells, the half pound of clams, water, garlic, bay leaves, and thyme in a medium stock pot, and heat over medium high on the stove. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer. When the clams open (it only takes a few minutes), remove them with a slotted spoon, take the meat out, chop it roughly and set aside. Return the clam shells to the stock pot and continue to simmer the broth for about 15-20 minutes total. Season lightly with salt and stir in the cayenne.
- Pour the broth through a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth to remove any grit from the seafood and set aside. Discard the leftover shells and herbs.
- Melt the butter over medium heat in the stockpot and add the onions and celery. Saute until the onions begin to turn translucent. Sprinkle the flour over the veggies, and stir to coat them completely. Gradually whisk in the strained broth until all of the flour has been incorporated into the liquid.
- Add the potatoes to the broth, bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer, stirring often, until the potatoes are very tender and beginning to fall apart. Taste and season with salt, black pepper, and another dash of cayenne, if you like a little more heat.
- Stir in the cream and the reserved clams and prawn meat. Heat, but do not boil, the soup over medium-low until the clams open and the prawns are cooked through, about 4-6 minutes.
- Ladle the chowder into bowls, garnish with chives, and serve with toasted, crusty bread.