Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Clam Chowder

I woke up craving clam chowder. I mentioned our dinner plans to my husband, who, having lived in Boston for 12 years, was not shy about sharing his advice.  So you could say I felt a little pressure to get it right, especially since this was my first chowder. But I am a San Francisco girl, born and raised, which means my idea of clam chowder involves eating from a sourdough bowl, sitting on the wharf, listening to the fog horns blow.

Here are the ingredients you'll need:
  • 3 thick strips bacon, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 1 Russet potato, diced 
  • 1 Yukon Gold potato, diced
  • 3 celery sticks, diced
  • 1 bottle clam juice
  • 3 cups water 
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 2 cans whole clams
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp sherry wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbsp salt, to taste
  • 1 tsp fresh ground pepper, to taste

In a large dutch oven or similar heavy-bottomed pan, cook the bacon on low heat until golden brown. Remove the crisp bacon and reserve for garnishing later. To the bacon fat add the onion, celery, half of the carrot, red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt. Seasoning this dish is really important; I recommend salting and tasting as you cook. Cook the veggies for 5-7 minutes, until the onions become soft and translucent.

Add the flour to the fat and cook for 2-4 minutes.  This flour-fat mixture is called a roux and is used to thicken sauces and soups.  When making a roux it is important to sprinkle the flour lightly over the fat (in this recipe over the vegetables too) and then mix it until very well incorporated. All of the flour particles must be completely covered in fat before the liquid is added, or else "dough-clumps" will form.  Also, you cook the flour for a couple of minutes to take away the raw flour taste.

Slowly add the white wine and then the water, using a wooden spoon to scrape off the bits of cooked bacon and vegetables (fond) on the bottom of the pot, a technique called de-glazing. Bring the soup to a boil and as the mixture thickens add the Russet potato, clam juice, and half-and-half and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. I use both Russet and Yukon Gold potatoes in this recipe - the starchier Russets will tend to disintegrate and give the soup more body, while the waxier Yukon Golds will hold their shape and texture. When the Russet potato is tender use your immersion blender to blend the soup until it is smooth. Add the whole clams, Yukon Gold potato, and remaining carrot and cook for another 15-20 minutes, until the carrot and potato are tender.

As a special garnish I thought it would be nice to crisp up some potato chips to help contrast the softer potato in the soup. Place 6 thin slices of Yukon Gold potato onto a baking sheet with olive oil, salt and pepper and cook them in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes.  Then put them under the broiler for 2-3 minutes for extra browning, but do not walk away from the oven because these chips can burn in an instant!

To plate this dish, ladle the soup into a bowl, top with a pinch of parsley, bacon bits, and a crisp potato chip and serve with toasted sourdough bread. In the end, even after eating two full bowls my husband wouldn't call it a traditional New England clam chowder. Who cares? It was great!

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