Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Clam Chowder for Niall

This first test batch of chowder left Bill speechless. He uttered all kinds of grunts and other appreciative noises, but otherwise pretty much stayed face down in the bowl until it was gone. I'm keeping this recipe as is. The whole thing took 20 minutes from start to finish, including prep.

It is very basic, and the only thing that sets this chowder apart are the two techniques described in the directions for the recipe below. I know it will offend your chefly sensibilities to NOT ADD LIQUID to the clams when you steam them, and if you must cave on this point you could add a splash of white wine, but trust me when I tell you it isn't necessary. This is how I solved the problem we spoke about -- of how to get the broth to taste like a big bowl of steamers and not like that nasty bottled clam juice...

The linguica is really key, and I hope you won't leave it out just because the folks out there haven't been converted yet. The pancetta gives the chowder a clean, mild porkiness, and the linguica lends a tremendous amount of flavor. I can overnight you a pound or two of the good stuff from Lopes Sausage if you don't have access to a source.

The parsley does change the traditional all-white aspect of NE chowder, adding little flecks of green to the bowl. I'm cool with that and I think the fresh herbs offset the richness of the dish, but you could leave them out if the green is too off-putting.I didn't add any salt to the pot at all, but the dish came out perfectly seasoned between the clams and the pork products. Enjoy...

1/2 cup pancetta, diced small
1/4 cup linguica, diced medium
12 littleneck clams, scrubbed
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, diced large
2 cups red new potatoes, UNPEELED, diced large
1/2 pint heavy cream
2 cups evaporated skim milk (I used regular whole milk and the flavor was phenomenal but the milk did scald. Up to you. I would use evaporated skim milk next time to approximate the texture of regular milk.)
handful chopped parsley
chopped chives (optional)
Ground black pepper, to taste

Turn the flame to medium-high under a large saute pan with a tight fitting lid. Add the pancetta and linguica and let them just barely begin to render -- about a minute. Add the clams, put the lid on the pot, turn the heat to high and walk away for 7 or 8 minutes. Do not take the lid off.
Prep all the other ingredients.

After 8 minutes, all the clams will be wide open and they will have generated a lot of clam liquor. Pour the contents of the pan into a very fine strainer over a small-to-medium-sized pot. Set the strainer with the clams and pork products aside to cool.

Turn the heat to medium under the pot with the clam liquor and add the remaining ingredients. Cook UNCOVERED until the potatoes are just cooked through, about 8 - 10 minutes total. This allows the liquid to reduce a little while the potatoes are soaking up all that good clam broth and cream.

Towards the end of the cooking time, take the cooled clams out of their shells and cut them in half. (This is super quick once the clams are cool. Don't say the prep crew doesn't have time to do this!) Discard the clam shells.

Once the potatoes are cooked through, add the clams and pork back to the chowder. Let cool for a couple of minutes and taste for seasoning. This makes 5-6 servings, and the chowder is good for several days.

Those two techniques -- steaming the clams first to get their liquid (and ensuring big pieces of clam) and then letting the liquid thicken a bit while the potatoes cook in it uncovered are my Xmas gifts to you, even if you already have them.