What's the secret to an amazing New England Clam Chowder?
The cream addition (and the creamy, thick texture) is something that restaurants began, because it makes the chowder more stable when it needs to be kept warm for a long time waiting for service. Many people who have never had the real thing homemade become accustomed to this style.
The problem is, the cream coats your tastebuds and makes the clam flavor essentially disappear.
What I described above is the clam chowder made by home cooks in my family when I was growing up in New England (Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire). It's also the style included in the original Fannie Merritt Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook. You can find the 1918 recipe here http://www.bartleby.com/87/0009.html very close to the end of the chapter.
Rick Moonen's chowder is superb. It's almost more of a stew than a soup. Here's a recipe I found online
but this recipe doesn't tell you what I think is the real reason this soup is so much better than others I've tried. At the point where this recipe tells you to allow the soup to rest for 20 minutes, the original recommends that if you can you should refrigerate it overnight at this point. And I must say, that overnight refrigeration really does intensify the clammy flavor
Good chowdah has to have fresh raw shucked clams, chopped, and the little crunchy rendered bits of salt pork for garnish.
Render diced salt pork, remove from pot, sweat diced onions in fat, simmer waxy potatoes in clam juice and water as needed to cover, when tender add clams, milk or cream or combo, shut off gas, let rest for 20 minutes, adjust seasoning, serve with salt pork crackings for topping the chowdah. No herbs, no wine, no celery, no flour or thickening of any kind, please. Oyster crackers on the side.
No, I mean oyster crackers. There is a distinct difference between the two crackers. It's oyster crackers for soup in most of New England. You get a package of oyster crackers with your diner chowder in MA, CT, ME and RI. Vermont Common Crackers are a trademarked name and a Vermont tradition. Being from Connecticut, I wouldn't think of putting common crackers in my chowder but Vermonters might. I don't know how popular clam chowder is in Vermont, btw, as opposed to say, Rhode Island. I think of common crackers more for accompanying good sharp VT cheddar or homemade jam, my personal favorite way to consume them.
I've found that the names for these crackers, along with the usage, are sometimes interchangeable, the more generic traditional term for this type of cracker is common cracker. See Euonymous' link above, where The Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook refers to the crackers used in it's soup recipes as "common" in 1918. Both types of crackers were invented in the early1800's. Oyster crackers definitely win in widespread popularity now, though.
Common and oyster crackers have a different appearance and slightly different texture, the common cracker is round and is about an 1 1/2" in diameter, while oyster crackers are smaller and look like a hexagonal oyster shell. The flavor is somewhat similar, they're both bland crackers with a saltine-like flavor. Both crackers can be split and/or crumbled and are used for stuffings or breading as well as soup toppers.
I am not talking about the Vermont Common Cracker that are trade marked.
I am talking about the real common crackers that you make at home and are not made from crushed crackers.Common crackers predate the Oyster Cracker by 100 years or so and the original oyster crackers where much more like common crackers than the mass produced hexagon puff balls that Nabisco sells.
In my opinion common crackers are too thick and heavy for eating as an accompaniment to cheese but are the perfect foil / sponge for chowder. My x mother-in- law and clan( old N.H. Yankees) always made common crackers with chowder.
They were mentioned with a smiley wink (- ; because I knew that you had not misspoke, I just though I would mention an alternative.
OK... I grew up in Mass and now live in NH for the last 16 of my 44 years and I am a foodie. When I make chowda, I use a couple of slices of the Hood packaged cheese (individual rapped ones). It adds a great creamy flavor.
Second, I love to make the Jasper White clam (not the restaurant style one) fish chowda from his 50 chowders book.
A New England clam chowder has a cream broth. A manhattan has a clear broth with tomatoes added. A rhode island has a clear broth...in my opinion a Rhode island chowder is the best, it's simple not a lot of problems. A delaware has cubed salt pork that is pre-fried, salt water, potatoes, diced onions, quahogs, butter, salt and pepper. A Hatteras is typically clear broth, bacon, potatoes, onions, and flour as a thickening agent. Loaded in spices such as white and/or black pepper, but occasionally with chopped green onions or even hot pepper sauce. There is also the minocran wich is spanish in origion and is reflected in heat. It's also tomato based.
I have my own version, that usually gets rave reviews.
I do use fish as well as clams, just use equal amounts of fish and clams. It's from 1840.
Take a pound or more of salt pork, and having half boiled it, cut it into slips, and with some of them cover the bottom of a pot. Then strew on some sliced onion. Have ready a large fresh cod, or an equal quantity of haddock, tutaug, or any other firm fish. Cut the fish into large pieces, and lay part of it on the pork and onions. Season it with pepper. Then cover it with a layer of biscuit, or crackers that have been previously soaked in milk or water. You may add also a layer of sliced potatoes.
Next proceed with a second layer of pork, onions, fish, etc. and continue as before till the pot is nearly full; finishing with soaked crackers. Pour in about a pint and a half of cold water. Cover it close, set it on hot coals, and let it simmer about an hour. Then skim it, and turn it out into a deep dish. Leave the gravy in the pot till you have thickened it with a piece of butter rolled in flour, and some chopped parsley. Then give it one boil up, and pour it hot into the dish.
Chowder may be made of clams, first cutting off the hard part.
I also use an 1884 recipe instead of tomatoes I will add cream or just water.
50 large clams
8 medium-sized potatoes
1 large, red onion
1/2 pound of larding pork
2 pilot crackers quartered
1 teaspoonful of salt
1 chopped long red pepper
1 teaspoonful of powdered thyme
1/2 pint of canned tomato pulp
Chop up the clams; cut the potatoes into small square pieces, and keep them in cold water until wanted. Chop the onion fine, and cut up the larding pork into small pieces.
Procure an iron pot, and see that it is very clean and free from rust; set it on the range, and when very hot, throw the pieces of pork into it, fry them brown; next add the onion, and fry it brown; add one fourth of the chopped clams, then one fourth of the chopped potato, and the pilot crackers, salt, red pepper, thyme and tomato pulp. Repeat this process until the clams and potato are used, omitting the seasoning; add hot water enough to cover all, simmer slowly three hours. Should it become too thick, add more hot water; occasionally remove the pot from the range, take hold of the handle, and twist the pot round several times; this is done to prevent the chowder from burning. On no account disturb the chowder with a spoon or ladle until done; now taste for seasoning, as it is much easier to season properly after the chowder is cooked than before. A few celery tops may be added if desired.
My final recipe is from 1896.
1 quart clams
4 cups potatoes cut in 3/4 inch dice
1 1/2 inch cube fat salt pork
1 sliced onion
1 tablespoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
4 tablespoons butter
4 cups scalded milk
8 common crackers
Clean and pick over clams, using one cup cold water; drain, reserve liquor, heat to boiling point, and strain. Chop finely hard part of clams; cut pork in small pieces and try out; add onion, fry five minutes, and strain into a stewpan. Parboil potatoes five minutes in boiling water to cover; drain and put a layer in bottom of stewpan, add chopped clams, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and dredge generously with flour; add remaining potatoes, again sprinkle with salt and pepper, dredge with flour, and add two and one-half cups boiling water. Cook ten minutes, add milk, soft part of clams, and butter; boil three minutes, and add crackers split and soaked in enough cold milk to moisten. Reheat clam water to boiling point, and thicken with one tablespoon butter and flour cooked together. Add to chowder just before serving. The clam water has a tendency to cause the milk to separate, hence is added at the last.
Hope this helps. I try to dig the clams my self, their just fresher to me then store bought.