It is a delight to be the spouse of a hard working, joy-filled, dedicated man.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Clam Chowder No Flour!

I'm laughing hysterically about the idea of a recipe for my clam chowder as requested by Kanani! I rarely use recipes. But here goes:

Oh wait, first some necessary background. My mom, wife of the man who taught me everything I ever needed to know about digging a clam and a zillion other things, made the best clam chowder. It tasted how it ought to taste, clammy (not the cold, damp, stiff kind, the mollusk kind), potatoey, and creamy (not creamy like slimy as in texture wise, creamy as in the thick dairy product, a taste not a texture) with a hint of bacon and other depth creating flavors.

Without a hint of flour, ever. The only flour anywhere near a proper bowl of clam chowder would be the saltines you had with it. Now granted, it won't glop in your bowl like porridge until the third day when all the potato has completely broken down but it will be a thing of beauty with all the intended flavors intact and not attacked by flour.

Ever wonder why you are left unsatisfied after eating most restaurant clam chowders or can of same said notion? Flour.

Great in cakes and bread and a decent gravy that begins its life with a roux, but flour has zero business any where near a soup that has a tater as the starch. It insults the wonderful little tuber and when the tater begins to pout the clam sucks back into its shell (metaphorical at this point hopefully) and waits for everyone to be happy, which will never happen if you invite flour to the party.

Have I made my point? Keep the lid on the flour canister.

So now, let's begin:

In a two eared kettle (that's a stubby stock pot) brown some bacon. (I know I made my soup in the crock pot the other day but it was a first time thing and is now a last time thing. No more crock pot chowder. Crock pot just about everything else but not clam chowder.)

Back to the bacon. Use just a little if you fear bacon, a lot if you love it and don't care what the "experts" say. But be careful, you are making clam chowder not ham chowder; you don't need to use all of Petunia to get the fragrance you need.

If you only use a little then you need to add a glop of butter - not, and I do mean not, margarine, it is a bizarre blend of water and plastic purported to be a food. It will certainly rob your chowder of goodness and spirit. If you don't have butter then throw those other pieces of bacon in. If you can't have dairy, then what are you doing making this chowder? Well maybe maybe rice milk would work. I've actually done halibut in hazelnut "milk" and it was pretty stinkin' good so maybe we can branch out sometime and try it. Oh yeah, back to today's recipe.

Before the bacon finishes browning toss in a chopped onion of your choice, if you use a Walla Walla you can call it PacificNorthWest chowder, yellow if that is what you have on hand or red if you need color in your food.

Also saute two or more ribs of celery, diced up. Again, it all depends on what you like and how many you are serving. Don't skip it though, or like skipping the bacon, your chowder will have no depth and taste fairly similar to the paste you get at most restaurants in spite of leaving the lid on the flour canister. And don't do too many or you will end up with something that taste more like, umm, spring leek soup, green, not brown and sandy like the beach.

Then at the last second of browning (make sure your onion and celery are translucent this is not a crunchy chunky vegetable soup) put in your freshly dug by hand, chopped fine Pacific Razor Clams (or your bag of frozen ones that you dug a while back or if you're desperate or a Midwestener a couple of cans or more of clams, which are mostly nectar and really, you can hardly call it nectar, more like the water collected during processing.)

A super interesting twist that Dirt and I enjoyed during the years we had a good friend that lived on the beach just of the ferry dock at Vashon Island, was to take left over baby steamers, ones that were steamed over water with dill weed and garlic, and chop those into a chowder, it was good, very good indeed.

You could also have added some sweet baby peppers you chopped up to the saute for a little color, but I wouldn't get carried away.

Oh yeah, fish out your bacon and chop it up if you didn't do it before you browned it.

Now peel a russet for each person plus two for the pot, (or if you're one of those bright multi-tasking kitchen people you could have done this while things were browning and sauteing but if you like to spend the night in the kitchen doing one thing at a time just remember to pull the pot off of the burner for now).

The extra potatoes? Well for one you're going to really like this and eat way more than you should considering the amount of time you don't spend in the gym or bucking hay, the clams like to eat potatoes even when they are chopped and trolls are known to sneak in and pull out taters from your pot, so really put in that extra potato or heck toss two or three extra in, you'll be sorry if you don't.

A note on Spuds: It is very important that you use russets, true russets. You must use a potato that is made of dry solids and straight starch chains, that is just the way you need to do it, no fudging with what you have on hand, turn off all the burners and go to the store and get russet potatoes. Otherwise you will fall prey to having to use flour to thicken your soup (most restaurants and canned pseudo chowders have to do this because of the hold time, waxy (branched starch moleculed) taters hold themselves together when they are cooked, they refuse to fall apart, great for when we get to certain tater salads or in vegetable beef soup where a cloudy broth is a turn off.

Not all potatoes are created equal!

An interesting thing if, and I do mean if, you are into that whole glycemic index, "can eat this, can't eat that" thing. The long chain of starch, takes longer to digest that the branched chain where the enzymes can work on several ends at once. So baked taters stick to your ribs (especially when coupled with protein and fat), boiled tates are like Chinese food, leaving you hungry an hour later.

You could get away with using a creamy mid-dry potato if you could find one but unless you grow them and order your seed spuds from a knowledgeable seed potato dealer I doubt you will have luck finding them.

But if you do (grow them, that is), don't figure that you can only use a russet, there are some red, fingerling and/or smooth skinned varieties that are straight chained, but they most likely won't be in the local store and sure as heck not at the country wide super duper chain buy in gynormous lots markets. There is a reason people associate red skin with waxy potatoes, it is what is in the store. Oops, off the potato sack and back to the chowder.

So now you can throw your diced russets into the pot, oh wait I told you to peel them, yeah great, now dice them. It doesn't matter if you have some little pieces, they will disappear into the base and thicken the soup like the outer portion of the nice one inchish cubes will. In fact, I used to make sure that I had some small pieces like the edge end cuts. But no matter, be precise if you want to spend the night in the kitchen or just dice 'em up quick and easy like, in half or thirds length-wise one way, lay flat and in half or thirds lengthwise again, then crosswise through the one half then the other half and you've got it.

If you are using the right potato, by the time the chowder is done they will look a lot more like the smooth rounded stones at the sea shore than the sharp edged cubes they are right now any way, precision in this case, even for presentation purposes, is unnecessary. So now get that pile of dice potatoes in the pot.

Stop! Did you add water to the pot before you put the spuds in? Did I tell you to? Did you want to secretly have to add flour behind my back?

Do not add the water before the potatoes, not, not, not. Unless you are prepared to peel and dice more taters, oops, then you'll have to add more clams and a little more bacon and maybe a half an onion which will require a separate fry pan to do it up in...

So now that you have the taters in the pot, jiggle it all the way to the sink. Don't bounce it, flip it like a pancake on Sunday morning or any thing but jiggle, like you do when you put beans in a jar and jiggle the jar to get the last twenty in and close the lid.
You're taking up the space with taters, onions, and clams, not the water.

Put in just enough water to cover, barely cover, the potatoes. Not one drop more.

Put the pot back on the stove and turn it on to medium. Don't cook it on too low of a heat, (that was the trouble of the crock pot).

Now what are you going to do?

That's right, you are going to clean up your mess, tidy up your spice cupboard, anything it takes to stay right in the kitchen while your chowder comes to a boil, you reduce the heat and stir occasionally to keep it from burning until the spud chunks smash easily with the back of a spoon.

Oh, I forgot and the mention of the spice cupboard reminded me, salt and other stuff you can add. Salt is not an option. You need to add just enough salt to make the water taste like a combo between sea and fresh water.

What are some options at this point? :

Parsley, my momma began to add parsley to her chowder in later years and it was a good addition so go ahead, dump a handful of dried parse in.

Dill, a natural with seafood but like so many things in this chowder don't get carried away or it will taste like something else, your favorite clam dip for instance.

Garlic, use good fresh garlic, not green sprouting garlic. And don't feel like you needed to put it into the saute, garlic often gets too overdone when most folks, even good folks on a bad day, saute it. So put squashed garlic in now.

Carrots. My momma used carrots maybe like three times in her life in her clam chowder, I was never happy with the inclusion. But Dirt loves them in his chowder and it is a concession that I make as a lovely cheerful submissive bride. Cube it; do not make "carrot coins." One, one thin one, no matter the size of the batch. Worse than celery, or its substitute lovage, for overtaking other flavors is a cooked carrot. But far more unnecessary. Here or in life in general. I dislike cooked carrots, dislike intensely. Unless of course they are swimming, backstroking, through a buttery sugar substance or wrapped in cheese blankets, and we will not be putting either in our clam chowder now will we?!

Pepper can be added once it is in the bowl, some folks don't groove on the black flecks floating in their chowder, reminds them of the kelp and bits once associated with the main attraction that they had to clean or some such flimsy complaint.

So I think I've covered everything. I'm not standing in the kitchen at the stove at the moment or actually making the clam chowder right now so it is possible that I forgot something but I don't think so.

Put that can of tomatoes down right now!

I am so sorry Dear Reader but you mayn't put that in here. If you want a tomato base seafood dish we'll whip up a Cioppino some other day but get that tomato right back where it came from today. Instead, now that your spud chunks are as soft as Chelle's heart, (second oldest daughter who cried at the movie Marley and Me before it even started) grab the thick whole cream. I said "thick whole cream" and I meant just that.

Half 'n half is half of what it ought to be, not to mentioned a homogenized product and unless you want me to get back on my spud sack, milk carton or soap box, you will take my word for it that homogenized products are as bad as hydrogenated oils or processed cheese. (Why is it that beautiful cheeses come from all over the world with faraway place names in the name of the delightful sometimes quirky cheese, but the worst cheese and in fact not really a cheese at all is the one that carries the name American? No wonder the world has issues with us. Tell 'em "It not us it is just the cheese!") Okay back to the clam.

Slowly pour in the cream. Get it just like you like it, you're the cook, be brave do it like you want it. But this is a cream chowder so make sure it looks like a cream chowder. But depending on how many and the source of your clams don't freak if your chowder has a drizzly day at a Washington beach color to it. It just means you used real clams not the bleached anemic things from a can, sorry Midwesterner you can laugh at my pathetic corn later on this summer (or now if you want) but for now, right now in the chowder, my clams rule.

Bowl it up. Put it in a wild colored bowl, (it offsets the off white so nicely) a really deep bowl. Set the bowl on a plate and put a fresh biscuit next to it, okay you can use a chunk of your fresh sour-dough if that is what you want. Fine, saltines it is.

A little chunk of butter in the center of your bowl with a sprig of fresh parsley looks really nice and classy. What more butter, more fat? Just for garnish? Yeah why not, you can eat veggy green stuff for the rest of the week.

A friend of ours always put cream sherry in his chowder, so when he would come for Fish Fridays we would play along. But I don't think this bowl needs it. It doesn't add any color and though it is a slight flavor enhancer, that was the minor ingredients job here today and they take pride of the job they have done. Besides, you want to enjoy a lovely glass of wine with this instead (don't want anyone thinkin' you're a lush now do you?).

And I would certainly go with the idea of a sweet pairing, but I would have it in a Moscato.

Followed an hour or so later by a lovely port, some dark chocolate and dates.



fishing guy said...

Lanny: quite the recipe with a lot of twists and turns. Very cute my friend adding your own touch to the dish.

Sparky ♥ ∞ said...

With the flour, now I know why some clam chowder sucks and others don't. Gosh, your receipe sounds heavenly! All the ingredients work for me. Thanks for sharing. :o)

Far Side of Fifty said...

Now I know..I must cook vicariously through you! I did really good too..I have never even tasted Clam Chowder ( Farm girl..with no clams) :)

Marla said...

I want some of that clam chowder! I would have to use canned clams around here.

LindaSueBuhl said...

Sounds delicious - truly the most incredibly complex "recipe" I've ever encountered. LOL - Lanny you are a delight!

Eggs In My Pocket / Yesteryear Embroideries said...

Enjoyed reading this recipe and your words making me chuckle. I love Clam chowder but have never tried to make it. Enjoyed this post. Blessings,Kathleen

Sand Flat Farm said...

Great job on that chowder recipe. I don't know if we can get clams down here. Might have to use the jarred ones. I love a good chowder, tho, but it's so rare to find a good one down here in the south. Thanks for the tutorial from an expert!

ethel said...

how did you know i adore clam chowder. Had some delicious chowder at a restaurant called "The Quiet Side" so named cuz it's on the quiet side of the Acadia Nat'l Park . It was delish. Wonder if they used flour?

Daisy said...

HA! Lanny, that is the longest recipe for clam chowder I've ever read. :D Made me laugh.

Ira said...

This was REALLY good!! No flour is definitely the way to go. It was creamy with lots of flavor. You do have to use the best ingredients, and cream!! I would not change ac thing.