Our extended family recently congregated in Boston for a long weekend holiday. We dined at the Isabelle Stewart Gardiner Museum, toured Boston in a duck boat, and cheered on the Red Sox at a night game. As members of our tribe reside in Singapore, New York, and St. Louis, a trip back east is never complete without a taste of their favorite Gulf of Maine seafood.
One of my favorite spots for good fresh fish is the restaurant chain Legal Seafoods. The Legal Seafood Market was founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1952 by George Berkowitz. In 1968, the family expanded and added a restaurant next to the fish market. A pioneer in food safety and respected world –wide for their for sustainable practices, the company now has restaurants in over 30 locations. And they have really good food.
To start, Joanna ordered up a bowl of clam chowder. On the first bite, she declared it quite delicious, and insisted that I give it a try. Nice and thick, creamy with lots of clam flavor, perfectly textured potatoes and pretty pink flecks of clams, it was a great clam chowder, a true old-time version.
Recipes for a traditional Maine clam chowder feature Hen or Surf clams, not the tradition steamer clams. At low drain tides, we are fortunate to be able to dig these large bi-valves here in Crockett Cove. The process of preparing “chowdah clams”; shucking, cleaning, removing the bellies and grinding the meat is quite laborious, but yields a very fresh and tasty clam chowder. In the recipe for Maine Clam Chowder, canned, chopped clams are equally delicious.
To make perfect chowder, you need to follow a few simple steps, as texture, taste and mouth feel are equally important. Finely chop the onions, and evenly cube the potatoes. A good chowder is never thickened with flour or cornstarch, only with potatoes. My preference is for the variety Yukon Gold or a good mashing potato.
Sautéing the onions in a combination of butter and bacon fat lends richness to the broth. Cooking the cubed potatoes in clam juice and whole bay leaves locks in a nice, deep clam flavor. Instead of canned milk, I favor a mixture of rich milk (raw milk with cream on the top) and cream, added to the soup with the clams. To finish, I puree a few cups in the blender to achieve the desired consistency and mouth feel, and lightly season the chowder with sea salt and fresh pepper.
The flavor of Maine Clam Chowder only improves with age. For optimum enjoyment, serve this chowder in heated soup cups or bowls with lots of chowder crackers.
MAINE CLAM CHOWDER
- 1¼ cup chopped clams 3 - 6.5 ounce cans
- 2 tablespoons bacon fat
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1¼ cup chopped onion
- 2 cups cubed and peeled potatoes about 2 medium
- 1 cup clam juice
- 3 cups rich milk combination of milk & cream
- 2 teaspoon teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or scant ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- In a heavy soup pot over medium heat, melt the bacon fat and butter. Add the chopped onion and sauté until transparent.
- Add the cubed potatoes, bay leaves, and clam juice, simmer, covered, until the potatoes are just fork tender.
- Stir in the clams and season to taste with the thyme.
- Add the milk and cream. Bring just to a simmer and season to taste with sea salt and fresh pepper.
- If desired, puree about 2 cups of soup in the blender to thicken. For best flavor, allow chowder to set overnight (in refrigerator) and reheat gently.