Not everything went badly last week. Let’s take a look at what went right before my unraveling.
Ah, yes, the chowder went right.
I didn’t have a go-to recipe, so I decided to experiment a little. I started by making a list of all the things I like in a chowder. If I’m going to invent a chowder recipe, I didn’t want to forget anything. Like clams. Oh, and bacon. Celery. Bay leaf and thyme. Potatoes. Big hunks of fish. Cayenne. I like my onions sliced instead of diced so they hang over the edge of my spoon like they’re trying to get away. I also prefer my clams to remain tucked into their submersible cots until the very last minute. I like to think they’re more comfortable that way. And less chewy.
From there I crafted my best approximation of what Jasper White would do with this list. Hmmmm, what would he do in a situation like this besides charge me a million dollars at Summer Shack? But since I didn’t really know, I followed my own instincts—the very same instincts that would betray me only days later. It came out tasty, though. Husband didn’t cry and the kids ate it without complaining, which is all I really ask at this point.
Two things I would have changed. The clams I used were a bit sandy and could have benefited from an overnight soak in water in the fridge so they could purge themselves of their grit. (I’ve heard of using salt or cornmeal in the water, too, but I’ve never tried it.) Also, I would have used a starchier type of potato, which I think would have given the soup a little more body. This version is creamy, but not thick. If you prefer your chowder thick, I would suggest stirring in a few tablespoons of flour in with the onions and celery toward the end of their cooking. But usually I just rely on free-agent potato starch to do the trick.
People can get pretty insufferable about chowder around here, so I can’t wait to read the comments in my delicate condition. Still, one should always make chowder the way one likes it, no matter what the Chowder Police say. As long as there are no tomatoes involved. Adding tomatoes to chowder is very wrong.
P.S. Very wrong.
Fish and Clam Chowder
You can always mash some of the potatoes against the side of the pot to release the starches for extra thickening. That’s a Jasper White trick.
2-3 slices of bacon to yield 2-3 Tbsp. bacon fat
2 onions, halved, sliced
1 rib celery, small dice
1 bay leaf
2 Tbsp. flour
4 cups potatoes, medium dice, unpeeled is fine
2-3 cups water or fish stock (I’m not the biggest fan of bottled clam juice, but you can use that, too)
½ tsp. dried thyme (or 1 Tbsp. fresh)
2 lbs. haddock, cut into large chunks
1 lb. steamers (smallish clams), scrubbed, soaked if you have the time
1½ cup milk
1½ cup cream
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
In a heavy-bottomed pot, fry the bacon until crispy. Remove, let cool, crumble, and set aside. To the bacon fat in the pot, add onions, celery, and bay leaf. Cook low and slow until the vegetables are wilted, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour and cook 2-3 minutes more. Add potatoes and arrange fish on top. Add hot water or fish stock to cover the potatoes. Add thyme and cayenne, and simmer five minutes, covered. Add clams on top. Simmer 5-10 minutes longer, covered, until the shells open. Discard any unopened clams. Gently stir in milk and cream (you want the flaky fish chunks to stay as intact as possible—have fun with that). Season with salt and pepper. Heat until just ready to simmer. Serve sprinkled with crumbled bacon.
Bacon: Codman Farm, Lincoln, MA
Onions, potatoes: Drumlin Farm CSA, Lincoln, MA
Celery: Dick’s Market Garden, Lunenburg, MA (Waltham Farmer’s Market)
Haddock, clams from local fishermen: Steamers, Newton, MA
Milk, cream: High Lawn Farm, Lee, MA (Russo’s)