On the menu: New England Clam Chowder
Do clams have a season? I live on the ocean and am married to a guy who studies clams. I should probably know this. But it’s winter, and winter is cold…especially this one…and cold means soups and stews of all sorts are in order. It’s soup season. So let’s have some clam chowder!
Holy cow; spring semester starts next week. I got shit to do. I should be doing it right now, actually. But sometimes my brain needs a break from all the reading and thinking and writing all academically and things, even when I’ve only been back at it for a few days. The enormity of my task list has yet to set in. Winter break has been pretty rad. I was home for a week and a half, during which time I went all over Wisconsin and Minnesota with a quick visit to Michigan. I was everywhere. I ate a lot. I slept a little. I baked things and cooked things and threw my best friend a bridal shower. I drank way too much wine one night. I think this is what holidays as an adult are like. Just go, go, go, then go back to normal.
Normal was a week at home, recuperating and staying out of the umpteenth snowstorm of the season. We stayed in New Year’s Eve. We snuggled with the cat. We missed a massive ice storm while we were away. The whole state lost power. We came home to a non-functioning refrigerator and freezer and lost a lot of…really old condiments? Thank goodness we had cleaned out before we left! This winter in Maine has been like so many I grew up with, and I’m loving it. I actually had to buy real winter boots because of all this snow. There’s no fur on them, not anywhere. They’re actually men’s boots. I rock them. I’ve been eating all the blood oranges. We went snowshoeing. We started up a hill, which really sucked, but then it tapered off and was beautiful. Now all the snow is covered in ice because it was 50ºF! the other day and it rained and rained. And then that polar vortex froze everything.
I guess a rainy January day or a frozen January day could call for some clam chowder. Thick, loaded with vegetables, and briny with that signature funky bitterness of fresh clams, clam chowder from scratch is surprisingly simple and comes together quicker than you’d think. It’s kind of a cuddly concoction, really. We served it with my favorite biscuits, tender and loaded with thyme. And it’s way better the next day.
New England Clam Chowder
adapted from the Joy of Cooking
5 lbs littleneck clams
1 cup water
2 slices of bacon, chopped
1 large onion, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons butter
1 bay leaf
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 lbs waxy potatoes, cubed (peeled first, if you so desire)
1 cup heavy cream
First, we clean the clams: Wash the shells with a small brush, then soak clams in enough cold water to cover, add 1/4 cup salt, and let sit for 30 minutes. This causes the clams to expel and sand they have inside. Then we make clam stock: put clams and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and cook until the clams open, about 10-12 minutes. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid, and discard any closed clams. Let clams cool, then remove meat from the shells and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.
Saute bacon in a Dutch oven until fat begins to render, then add onion and celery and continue cooking until bacon crisps and vegetable soften. Add clam stock, bay leaf, thyme, and potatoes, bring to a boil, then simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Add chopped clams and cream and simmer for 5 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper to taste.