by Mark McNulty.
I beg your forgiveness up front. I promised to always deliver recipes that are quick and easy to make without stretching the family budget. This post fails both tests, but for good reason. As requested in a comment on my column last month, I am sharing my recipe for New England clam chowder. When it comes to chowder, there is no simple short cut. A good chowder is a work of art. Of course there are many quality pre-made chowders you can purchase when time is short, but if you are going to make your own chowder it should always be a labor of love. And, yes, there are few things I love more than making my own steaming pot of fresh chowder.
Clam chowder is another culinary treat that is woven into the very fabric of life in New England. From the days when settlers first explored these lands until 2014, clam chowder has been there to mark the passage of time. The roots of today’s chowder are a basic fish stew, a great pot where seafood, potatoes, and other local resources were heated together in order to provide a steady supply of “poor man’s” food. The meaning of the word chowder traces back to the word calderia, or “a place to warm things” in Latin. Clams and shellfish replaced fish as the chowder’s mainstay in the mid-1800’s. As the decades and centuries passed, its popularity grew and recipes became more and more refined. Today you can find endless variations on New England clam chowder and almost all of them claim to be “award winning”. Everyone has their favorite… and I am happy to share my favorite with you:
New England Clam Chowder
- 2 cups diced potatoes
- 4 strips bacon
- 4 tablespoons margarine
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1/4 cup each, diced: carrots, onions, green peppers, celery
- 1 quart water
- 1 can clam juice (8 oz)
- 1 1/2 pounds fresh clams
- 1 cup cream
- 1/2 teaspoon each: thyme, sage, white pepper, salt
- Blanch potatoes until they’re slightly tender. Rinse under cold water, drain, and set aside.
- Sauté the bacon strips in a large sauce pan (4 qt) over medium heat until it is crisp and all bacon fat has been rendered. Remove the bacon, dice it, and set it aside.
- Keep the grease in the pot. Add 2 tablespoons margarine and mix as it heats. Add in the flour and cook this roux on low heat, stirring, for 3-4 minutes. Remove the roux from the pot and set it aside.
- Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of margarine to the pot and saute the carrots, onions, peppers, and celery over low heat until they soften. Return the roux to the pot, then add your water and clam juice. Raise the heat to high and cook, stirring frequently for about 8 minutes until the mixture thickens. Add your clams, bacon, potatoes, seasonings, and cream. Simmer about 5 minutes, making sure it does not boil after the cream is in.
- Serve and enjoy!
- If you like, float a pat of butter on the chowder when you serve it or offer oyster crackers. Serving it in a bread bowl is also a fun treat!
- Make it a true NewEngland chowder: Use locally grown produce, locally harvested clams, Maine potatoes, etc.
- The oldest known, printed chowder recipe in New England? That came from the Boston Evening Post on September 23, 1751.
- If anyone asks you which chowder is better, New England or Manhattan… just walk away. There is no debate here. New England chowder is the one and only true chowder. =)
Mark McNulty is a local teacher and children’s writer who is currently a stay-at-home Dad. A lifelong resident of the South Shore and avid fisherman, Mark has developed a passion for local seafood. He has often said “If it swims, I’ll eat it.” This includes active support for local fish markets and fishermen. Mark is also an avid Boston sports fan. His other interests include hiking, travel, cycling, and archery. His blog, The New American Dad, is a helpful resource for all mothers and fathers and was recently recognized as Top Blog by Mommy Poppins Boston. His family currently lives in Pembroke.