Last post our culinary journey took us to New Orleans. Today we travel to the East coast, New York City to be exact, for a taste treat that bears the name of its most famous borough. While New England clam chowder is made rich with cream and milk, tomatoes and aromatic vegetables complement the clams in the Manhattan version. Most food historians agree that this tomato based brothy soup was probably inspired by Portuguese and Italian immigrants who settled in the Northeast as opposed to an American invention like its New England counterpart. How is it we are so rarely offered this style chowder on restaurant menus? It is hearty and full of flavor minus the fats brought to the table by the “white kind,” yet it remains scarce. I am here to sing its praises and bring attention to this culinary creation.
Let’s begin by talking about the star of the show, the clams. If you are fortunate enough to live near the sea, they are plentiful and affordable so I recommend you purchase them in the shell and cook them yourself. I, on the other hand, live inland and purchase clam meat already removed from its shell and sold by my local fish monger by the pound. It does make the job easier eliminating several steps but you do sacrifice the clams in the shell which make a beautiful and dramatic presentation. You choose.
It may seem like a lot of ingredients, but fear not. All of the elements are readily available at most grocery stores. You may have to go to your seafood store for the clams but worth it. You could use shrimp, scallops or a firm fish if clams prove to be problematic in your area of the world. Of course it would no longer be “clam” chowder but still delicious. This is an easy recipe and the payoff is big. Let ‘er rip!
1 lb. clam meat, drained, rinsed, reserve liquid, or 8 lbs. hard shell clams, such as cherrystone, scrubbed clean and steamed in water or white wine until opened, strain, reserve liquid, remove meat from shell and save a few in shell for garnish.
4 slices of thick cut, smoked bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 onion, cut medium dice
2 celery stalks, chopped
½ red bell pepper, cut medium dice
2 carrots, cut medium dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
½ t dried oregano
½ t crush red pepper flakes
1 bottle clam juice, 8 oz.
2c chicken stock, possibly a little more or less to make 4c liquid with clam juice and reserved clam liquid or cooking broth (you can substitute bottled clam juice for the chicken stock, if desired)
1 lb. potatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes (Yukon gold are nice but any type will do)
1 14-ounce can fire roasted tomatoes, diced or crushed w/ juice
3 roasted tomatoes, halved and sliced (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
- Render the bacon in a large heavy bottom soup pot until golden and crispy. Drain off all but 2 T of the fat. Add the onion, celery, pepper and carrots, cook for 10 minutes or until vegetables are soft but not browned.
- Add the garlic. Using kitchen twine, tie the bay leaves with the thyme sprigs and add bundle along with the oregano and red pepper flakes, cook an additional 2 minutes.
- Measure reserve clam broth, add clam juice and then enough chicken stock to make 4c. Increase the heat and add to pot along with the potatoes. Bring to boil and cook for 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
- Add the canned tomatoes and roasted, if using, continue to cook for 10-15 minutes longer.
- Remove the pot from the heat and add the reserved clam meat and half the parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Allow chowder to sit for another hour so flavors meld or if you can’t wait chow down right away. Reheat slowly (do not boil), top with remaining parsley and serve with crusty bread and a crisp salad.
This chowder is bursting with flavor. The clams bring a taste of the ocean, roasted tomatoes and bacon give it a smokiness, the aromatic vegetables are fresh and crunchy, potatoes are soft and creamy and the parsley at the end gives it color and brightness. How can you go wrong with all of that?
Next time chowder is on your mind, take your taste buds to Manhattan and try this sometimes neglected cousin of the creamy style we see more often.