New England Clam Chowder
I opened this thread to let all the cooks have a place to air their ideas about what constitutes a traditional New England Clam Chowder. I know there are a lot of ideas about what is traditional out there. I'd like to know what your ideas are.
I grew up in New England (Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire), and cook mainly from my grandmother's recipes and the Fannie Farmer (Boston Cooking School) Cookbook. In my opinion, a good chowder must include rendered salt pork, onion, potato, freshly cooked clams with their juice, milk, and butter.
In particular, there is no cream involved. The soup is made sweet by the milk and not thickened by anything except a few tablespoons of flour per 6-8 servings.
Have at it!
Ideally, not even any flour, let alone roux or cornstarch. The thickening comes from the potatoes alone, and is not very thick at all. Thickening is a device to hold a milky soup over heat for food service so it doesn't curdle; when made properly at home and served immediately, this is really unnecessary, although the example of food service has inevitably shaped both people's expectations and the myriad recipes that develop.
Cream should be used sparingly, so as not to mask the delicate flavor of the clams. Since a lot of people actually don't like that flavor very much, a heavy hand with cream developed to cater to that taste, also shaping people's expectations and recipes over time.
While not very traditional, I do like fresh cracked pepper on my chowdah.
Oh, and pilot crackers, still made available in New England at least.
I agree with Karl - no flour. That's the sort of heresy that leads us inevitably to that wallpaper paste glop that most restaurants think of as chowder. Otherwise I think your list is right. I agree that milk is traditional, but I like my chowder with half and half for a little extra richness. (I figure since we're all anonymous here there's little chance that my friends and/or family will find out)
Yes, half and half is a good compromise. Another reason heavy cream came to be favored in food service is that cream is less likely to curdle than milk, and so it's easier to hold soup over heat for serving. A good example of how the demands of food service distort recipes that are better at home when made the old fashion way
I like fish chowder better with the traditional thin milk with floating butter approach - a fine haddock or cod really sits well in a true chowder. I think Clams, on the other hand, are actually more robust - esp if clam juice is used - and can stand a little cream or roux - I don't think it detracts from the flavor. I don't like thick glop, but I don't mind what most restaurants do to it. I do mind extreme flavor additions - herbs and spices. That needs to stay with that tomato based stuff they have down on that little island in the Hudson - those folks obviously don't even know what a chowder is supposed to be... ;)
Another vote for the simple, unadulterated approach. The best chowders, both clam and fish, and lobster stew I've tasted have been in Mid-Coast Maine. The chowders were as described, containing salt pork, onions, potatoes, clams or fish, milk or half and half, and a butter pat. Crown pilots accompany, and a dill pickle and pilots go along with the fish chowder. The very best of those were and are served at Sea Basket in Wiscasset and at Rock Gardens Inn adjacent to Sebasco Lodge. At RGI, lobster stew is lobster meat with liquid colored by lobster shells, milk, and a butter pat.
My dad used to make a wicked Manhattan clam chowder. As good as it was, it was closer to bouillabaise (sp) than to chowder.
Now, to hold up the low end of this recipe swap, at Costco they've been serving samples of clam chowder made thusly: Make a white potato soup from the recipe on a canister of their dehydrated soup mix. Dump in a can of chopped clams. When everything is back to temp. serve in little paper cups with little plastic spoons.
Actually it's quite good! The soup mix looks like a good thing for camping trips, or just to have on hand.
Live and raised in California.
Grew up on the flour based soups some of which can be quite good. If you are ever out this way go to Brad's in Pismo Beach. I personally cook without the flour, do cheat with the half and half, and I use red potatoes. What I missed in every other posting is the use of Tabasco as a condiment. For me it's just not the same without a shot of Tabasco. Comments or thrashings welcome.
re: Hugh Lipton
Well, I live in San Francisco now and have for the past 10 years or so. In fact, I posted my original request because so many San Franciscans recently insisted that real New England chowder be rich and creamy that I started doubting my memories of thin, sweet, milky, and buttery clam chowder.
I'm glad so many cooks from New England have backed up my opinion of what it should taste like.
As I said earlier, I think there are many regional variations of NE clam chowder, and there's no reason why someone born and bred in California should make the same version of it as I do. You don't have the same ingredients or traditions.
I, for one, would never put Tabasco sauce into anything as delicate as clam chowder; but you like what you grow up with.
If I ever find myself in Pismo Beach I'll try to remember Brad's. Thanks for the tip!
re: Hugh Lipton
I prefer to thicken a milk-based soup with a little instant mashed potato rather than flour. Incidentally, if you like New England clam chowder and have a serious need to watch fat in your diet, it is possible (I don't say ideal) to make the chowder using no salt pork, no cream, minimal fat to saute the onions, and 2% milk. Thicken it a little with the instant potato. Life is compromise.