In the United States, chowder is a very serious business. Now Clam Chowder is a very simple dish of clams, onions and potatoes in a milk or cream based broth served with oyster crackers for thickening. Sounds harmless enough but no, New Englanders are so passionate about this soup that in 1939 a bill was passed in Maine legislature making it illegal to put tomatoes in a New England Clam Chowder. But the dramatics don’t stop there, there are several other variations of the humble clam chowder created in other various locations across the US.
The Manhattan Clam Chowder which is a tomato based broth, this substitution of milk for tomatoes was initially the work of Portuguese immigrants in Rhode Island as tomato based stews and soups were a traditional part of the Portuguese cuisine. Manhattan Clam Chowder can also include celery, carrots and beans. Scornful New Englanders called this Manhattan Clam Chowder and not New York Clam Chowder because, in their view, calling someone a New Yorker is and insult. Very polite those New Englanders.
Another variation, the Rhode Island Clam Chowder is a clear broth and is called South Country Style, referring to the southern beach and fishing counties where it originated. In some parts of the state red chowders are also served as Rhode Island Clam Chowder, however is different from Manhattan Clam Chowder as it does not have chunks of tomatoes or the other vegetables.
There are also countless other variations of the soup which can include bacon, chilli and smoked salmon. The chowder will also vary in consistency depending on who made it. Some New England Chowders are thickened only by the addition of crackers when serving however some soups are thickened during cooking with flour or prolonged cooking time. So the differences aren’t just between New England and the rest of America.
3 cups water
150g streaky bacon, cut into lardons
1 tbs butter
1 tbs oil
1/2 onion, finely diced
2 sticks of celery, finely sliced
1 large potatoes, peeled and cut into a 2cm dice
Salt and pepper
1 small sprig of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup heavy cream
Combine clams and water in a large saucepan, cover and boil. Cook the clams until they open, about 5 to 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the clams from the stock. Strain the stock through a fine sieve lined with paper towel or muslin cloth. You should have about 4 cups of stock, if not add a little more water.
When the clams are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the shells and coarsely chop. Discard shells and any clams that didn’t open.
Rinse the pot and dry completely. Cook the bacon in the oil and the butter over a medium heat until the fat has rendered and the bacon is golden. Add the onion and celery and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes.
Return the strained broth to the pot, along with the potato, thyme and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook until the potato is tender but not falling apart, about 6 to 8 minutes. If you want you can mash a couple of pieces of potato to help thicken the broth. Stir in clams and cream and cook until just heated through, no more than a minute or so. Do not boil or clams with toughen. Season with salt and pepper and serve.