Clam chowder… Just saying those words is comforting in itself. Think creamy, silky, thick, chunky, hearty soup. Since our visit to the chowda mecca (aka Pike Place Chowder), we’ve been on a mission, haunted with the idea of recreating such perfection.
We had great ideas for the bones of our recipe but decided to consult a pro for the tips that would take our chowder from good to life-altering! Lucky for us, we were able to get some one-on-one time with David Leck, the master oyster shucker at Taylor Shellfish Farms. He suggested we use russet potatoes, the high starch content of which would help naturally thicken the chowder while keeping it fluffy and light. As we did not want to add any bacon, we asked him for his thoughts on using smoked salmon instead. David advised us to keep the salmon as a “topper” otherwise it would take over the chowder entirely. This was a great tip. Yes, we were smitten by the smoked salmon chowder from Pike Place Chowder but our plan was to make New England Clam Chowder and therefore required to keep the smoky flavor on the light side. On the other hand, smoked salmon would help us to give this New England Clam Chowder a Pacific Northwest taste. Some of David’s suggestions were ideas we had already thought of so we knew we were on the right track! With our recipe under control we were ready to pick out the clams!
Of course we stayed at Taylor Shellfish for our shellfish. Why go anywhere else? Oh, the selection! We used Manila clams, as they are the sweetest and the smallest you will find on the market and are very typical in the Pacific Northwest. Remember, the smaller the better…
- 3 lbs live Manila clams (or any other kind of small clams: littlenecks, middlenecks…)
- 1 1/2 cup water
- 2 cups milk
- 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4 stalks celery, diced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 extra bottle clam juice (optional)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 stalks green onions, chopped
- smoked salmon, chopped into small pieces
- oyster crackers (optional)
Start by cleaning the clams under cold water, scrubbing the grit with a brush. Then, in a large pot over high heat, cook the clams in the water, covered, for about 5 minutes (10 or 12 if using another kind of clams). The clams should be open. Discard any clams that have not opened. Use a slotted spoon to remove clams to a bowl and set aside to cool. Pass the juice through a sieve. This is the clam nectar and the key ingredient for a good clam chowder. Keep it.
Once the clams are cool enough to handle, open them over the bowl to catch their liquid. Place clam meat on a cutting board to chop and set aside. Pass the remaining clam juice through a sieve and add to the clam nectar.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk to a slow boil. Add the potatoes to the milk and cook for about 10 minutes , or until tender.
Melt the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat and saute the onion, celery and garlic for about 5 minutes, or until soft. Stir in the flour and a cup of the milk in which the potatoes have been cooked. Stir vigorously and add the remaining milk and cooked potatoes. Pour the reserved clam nectar, add clam meat and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Try the chowder (this is the only privilege you have as the cook so enjoy it fully). Season with salt and pepper (more pepper than salt actually), pour a little more clam juice depending on the desired consistency. Serve hot with green onion and smoked salmon sprinkled on top. And… don’t forget the oyster crackers.
Put the first spoon in your mouth, a little bit of chowder, clam meat and smoked salmon and enjoy the taste, slowly… let the flavors develop. Repeat, until your bowl is empty.
As a brief but important side note, we are thinking that if you are anything like us, you are wondering what wine can be paired with a Clam Chowder. We weren’t sure either, so we trekked over to bar ferd’nand for advice. They paired our chowder with a bottle of Michel Delhommeau Muscadet, which complemented it very nicely.
So, maybe it’s not the most authentic New England Clam Chowder, but it’s certainly the best in our eyes. Don’t focus on authenticity; flavor is what really matters. And it might just lead you to an unconventionally delicious outcome…
Good luck and enjoy!
Bee & Em