Super Bowl 53 (LIII for those Latin geeks) is fast approaching and along with that, the usual “what to eat” questions. Once again, the New England Patriots are playing for an NFL record!!
How about celebrating with some good old fashion New England history? Clam chowder you say! Chowder is a soup or stew made primarily of seafood (as clams or fish) typically with milk or cream, salt pork, onions and other vegetables. While there are different types of chowder, the style made from clams is undoubtedly the most well-known in New England today. So when was clam chowder first made?
According to "Savoring Gotham: A Food Lovers Companion to New York City," the story goes that the New England style of chowder was first introduced by the French, Nova Scotian, or British settlers and became a common pub offering by the 1700s. The soup continued to gain popularity throughout the years and, according to "What's Cooking America," was being served in Boston at Ye Olde Union Oyster House (the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the country) by 1836.
Cape Cod author Joseph C. Lincoln wrote: “A New England clam chowder, made as it should be, is a dish to preach about, to chant praises and sing hymns and burn incense before. To fight for. The Battle of Bunker Hill was fought for — or on — clam chowder; part of it at least, I am sure it was. It is as American as the Stars and Stripes, as patriotic as the national Anthem. It is 'Yankee Doodle in a kettle.”
Traditional New England clam chowder is thick and made from clams, potatoes, onions, sometimes salt pork, and milk or cream. The recipe usually calls for heavy cream, light cream, or whole milk as the base, with milk or cream the biggest difference between the New England style and all the rest.
Of course, I asked all my friends and neighbors what their recipe was and I got as many variations on the above. With that said, here is my favorite (want a wine pairing, I love Pazo Senorans Albarino, this Spanish white from Rias Baixas scored slightly higher on its own. The flavor was fresh, crisp, accentuating the clammy flavor of the chowder.)
- 30 quahogs
- Salt pork, chopped
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 6 tablespoons flour
- 4 medium potatoes, diced
- 2 cups heavy cream; 2 cups milk
How to Make It
Step 1: Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add clams; steam 7 to 8 minutes or until shells open. (Discard any that do not.) Remove clams from pot with a slotted spoon. Strain liquid through a fine wire-mesh strainer, reserving 4 cups. Remove clam meat from shells, and coarsely chop.
Step 2 - Cook bacon in soup pot over medium heat about 8 minutes or until crispy. Remove bacon from pot with a slotted spoon, and drain on paper towels. Discard pan drippings.
Step 3 - Melt 6 tablespoons butter in soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and thyme; cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes. Add flour; cook, stirring often, 2 to 3 minutes. Add reserved clam liquid; cook, stirring often, 5 minutes. Add potatoes, reduce heat to low, and cook 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
Step 4 - Add cream and milk; bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring often, until slightly thickened. Add bacon and chopped clams; cook 3 minutes or until heated through. Ladle into bowls, and top each with a pat of butter.
Nelson A. Barber, PhD, teaches hotel and restaurant management at Lakes Region Community College, and consults on food-and-wine education and service.