Every culture has a dish, or handful of dishes, that they claim the all-encompassing rights to. Here in the South, it’s grits… and fried chicken. Although.. truth be told, I grew up here and I still have no clear understanding exactly what Southern Fried Chicken is.
If I go by my Great Grandmother, it’s heavily peppered, pan fried chicken, placed in a pan after cooking – covered and allowed to steam…. it isn’t crunchy. Jane’s is crunchy… but no pepper. Evelyn’s was buttermilk dipped, but not steamed. … and on and on it goes, throughout every single household here in the Deep South – slight differences in techniques, varying outcomes, different seasoning profiles… but all of them Southern Fried Chicken.
It’s ours… we Own it.
So, I get it when someone from New England foams at the corners of the mouth when some outlander makes a “traditional” Clam Chowder. It’s just one of those things that if you aren’t from here (well, there)… you can’t make. I’m sensitive to that. That’s why you never see me make a “traditional” dish from somewhere else. I’ll play around with it, I’ll change the tactics to where they make sense to me, and I’ll always make “my Version of….“, or an “inspired by...” dish. Really…I have enough drama in my life already, I don’t need cat-lady crazy people screeching at me for desecrating a family tradition.
So, Clam Chowder.
Chowder, unlike Savannah Crab Stew (which resembles super thick cream gravy with bits of crab), or Potato Soup – where what you want IS a bowl of supreme thickness that you can stand a spoon in, In my mind, Chowder should be creamy without being gloppy or stodgy. There should be a certain amount of thickening coming from the cream / potatoes and roux, while still being able to discern a flavorful clammy broth…. and that, my friends, is a tall order. Since we don’t / can’t use cream in this house, getting things to thicken properly is always a chore. I’ve played around with the roux aspect of the stock and added the flour in two different ways. – a cooked roux, and a flour and milk emulsion. The cooked roux allows some of the starches to create a sturdy framework for the soup base, and the emulsion keeps the milk portion silky without sinking and becoming soup pot glop.
Plate Fodder’s New England Inspired Clam Chowder
1 (10 ounce) Can Baby Clams, Drained and liquids reserved.
1 (10 ounce) Can Chopped Clams, Drained and liquids reserved
1 Medium Sweet Onion – Finely Diced
2 Strips Smoked Bacon – Minced
3 Medium Russet Potatoes – Peeled and 1/2″ Diced
1 Bay Leaf
1/2 Teaspoon Thyme
1/2 Teaspoon Black Pepper
2 Tablespoons AP Flour – divided
2 Tablespoons Cream Sherry
1 Teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
The Retained Clam Juice + Enough Seafood (or Chicken) Stock to make 3 Cups
1 1/2 Cups Whole Milk (in this house – milk is always lactose free milk)
Tools of the Trade:
6 Qt Dutch Oven
Medium Sauce Pan
Good Knife & Cutting Board
In the dutch oven, saute the bacon over medium heat until lightly browned and add the onions. Saute them just until they are translucent – but not brown. Add 1 tablespoon of the flour and mix well with the bacon and onions. Once it makes a paste, add the clam juice and stock, thyme, pepper and potatoes. Cook at medium until the potatoes are done (about 16 minutes) and the broth thickens and glistens.
While the potatoes are cooking, add the milk, bay leaf, sherry, and Worcestershire sauce to the sauce pan. Whisk in the flour until there are no lumps. Bring the milk mixture to a light boil and add the clams. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Once both pots have thickened and the potatoes are done, carefully pour the milk and clams into the potato broth. Bring the dutch oven to a light boil and cook for 2 minutes.
Your chowder is ready.
This 2-pot method creates all the silky lusciousness of a cream-based chowder without all the heaviness. And, the tempered roux keeps the soup at a set thickness, so you don’t have to worry about ending up with a bowl of clam cream gravy.