Quintessential Chowder

As many of you know, Saturday night dinner has become a real thing for us during the pandemic — a way to differentiate a weekend night from all the others — and the dishes we’ve made to mark it run the gamut, each one somehow special in its own way.

Sometimes Saturday dinner is super old-school, like Marcella Hazan’s Milk-Braised Pork Loin or Grandma Turano’s meatballs. Sometimes it’s takeout ramen decanted into nice bowls and eaten at the votive-studded dining room table so we can pretend we are at a restaurant. And sometimes, a recipe qualifies for the big leagues simply because it’s the first time we’ve made it. We got really into expanding our horizons this past year, cracking open new-to-us cookbooks and looking for any opportunity to hop a few towns over to track down specialty ingredients. (An activity!) The recipes that are now regulars on the Saturday night rotation won’t be a surprise to anyone who followed my 2020 Pantry, Project, Purpose series, but if I had to make a leaderboard, at the top would be: Ottolenghi’s Braised Greens with Yogurt (from his last book Flavor, but you can find the recipe at the bottom of this column); Alongside those braised greens we’d always make Samin Nosrat’s Tahdig, the Persian crispy rice dish which involves a dramatic skillet flip (Saturday night, baby!); Andrea Nguyen’s Shaking Beef and her Tofu Bánh Mì, both from Vietnam Food Any Day; Priya Krishna’s Khichdi(which we make during the week just as frequently); Eric Ripert’s Salmon and Leeks with Red Wine Sauce, and finally…

…New England Clam Chowder from the Eventide cookbook. Wow do I love this dinner. The soup is briny, creamy, comforting, and in case you’re worried, absolutely substantial enough for an entire dinner. (There’s cream, bacon and potatoes in there, plus the obligatory oyster or saltine crackers crumbled on top.) Also, perhaps not coincidentally, one spoonful of the stuff beams me right to a table at Eventide, the beloved Portland restaurant I’ve written about ad nauseam on DALS. For a reason, though! Their food — chowder, oysters, crab rolls, miso-broiled black cod, fried fish sandwiches, the signature brown butter lobster rolls and greens with nori vinaigrette— is the food I’d eat every night if I had my druthers. And you would too, trust me! The fact that I have their book now and I’ve been able to replicate authentic tasting chowder from my favorite restaurant in my own kitchen this past year…well, I’d count that as a small miracle, even if it hadn’t been a year where I was searching everywhere for small miracles. 

Here is the recipe…

New England Clam Chowder
Adapted from Eventide, by Arlin Smith, Andrew Taylor, Mike Wiley, with Sam Hiersteiner 

A note from Andrew Taylor in the recipe intro: “This is the one. The lobster roll gets all the glory, but New England clam chowder tells the most profound story of Yankee cooking. While entire books have rightfully been written on the topic, clam chowder is incredibly simple and pure at its core. Clam juice. Potatoes. Dairy. Everything else is just window dressing. Remember this when you’re giving it a go in your kitchen and don’t mess it up too much.” 

Me again: In the interest of simplifying, we did mess with it a little, swapping in bacon for homemade Salt Pork, and omitting nori sheets that you can roast by waving over a gas burner flame. Feel free to add back either!

kosher salt
2 to 3 dozen clams (the recipe calls for 5 pounds chowder clams, 2 pounds steamer clams; we could only find Little Necks)
1 1-inch piece dried kombu (or kelp; you can also find it at Whole Foods or H Mart), optional
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, diced
1 pound medium-starch potatoes (Yukon gold), peeled and diced
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
leaves from 1 to 2 thyme sprigs
2 pieces good-quality bacon, cooked and chopped
minced chives for garnish
saltine (or oyster) crackers for serving

Fill a large bowl with cold, clean water that has been seasoned with kosher salt to taste like seawater. In a colander, rinse the exterior dirt from the clams, then submerge them in the bowl of water. Leave them to sit for 30 minutes to encourage them to release their grit. Drain the clams. Rinse the konbu (if using) and set aside.

In a large pot, combine the clams, 2 1/2 cups water, and 1 piece of konbu and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer, cover, and cook until the clams have just opened, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the clams to a bowl, keeping the liquid in the pot. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a separate bowl. Pick the meat from the clams and place them in cold, fresh water. Agitate them with your hands and remove any excess sand. Drain and coarsely chop the clams.

In the same large pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. When the butter is just sizzling, add the onion and potatoes and cook until they soften and start to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the strained clam juice, cream, black pepper, and thyme and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer until the potatoes are cooked through, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped clams and stir to incorporate and warm them.

Ladle the finished chowder into four to six bowls, aiming for about two parts broth to one part chunky goodness. Garnish with bacon pieces, chives, and crackers.

Reprinted from Eventide with permission.

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