Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Warm and Clammy--In a Good Way

I'll admit that dinner last night came more from my being in love with the idea of clam chowder than an actual craving for the stuff. Jasper White's kitschy-looking Summer Shack Cookbook has been sitting on my desk for weeks now, and I've idly thumbed through its pages too many times to count. Kind of like the J. Crew catalog, this book sells a concept--buy these clothes/cook this food and you will be on a tropical beach sporting a gauzy turquoise dress, wading into the ocean, who cares if it gets wet/wearing a damp bathing suit with sand between your toes, digging in to an alfresco seafood summer feast, pass the butter, please. So you can see why I was into the idea of making something from this book, namely the Creamy Cape Cod Clam Chowder.

Turns out, though, that once I got going, I actually started getting excited about eating clam chowder, too. Lugging nearly 10 pounds of Long Island cherrystone clams from the fishmonger back to my apartment, scrubbing them in my kitchen sink, watching them steam open in my biggest pot (I peeked under the lid and caught some just as they popped--it was so sudden and happy!)... it all made me really hungry.

This recipe, for a white chowder, called for salt pork, but my butcher didn't have any, so I substituted diced bacon, which imparted a nice smoky flavor. After steaming and chopping the clams, I crisped up the bacon, then sautéed it with butter, onions, garlic, celery, thyme and a bay leaf. Next, I added diced potatoes and the reserved clam juice, and cooked this until the potatoes were soft on the outside but still firm inside. The addition of the clams and heavy cream completed the dish.

And then I pretended I was wearing that bathing suit and feeling that sand on my feet, and dug in. Tasty chowder! Creamy and fresh and perfectly beachy. Anybody want to go watch the sun set over the bay?--S

Creamy Cape Cod Clam Chowder

10 lbs small quahogs or large cherrystone clams
2 c water
4 oz. meaty salt pork, rind removed and cut into small (1/3-in.) dice
2 T unsalted butter
2 med. yellow onions, cut into 1/2-in. dice
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, cut into 1/3-in. dice
5-6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped (1T)
1 lg dried bay leaf
2 lbs Yukon Gold or other all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2- to 3/4-in. dice
2 c heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher or sea salt if needed
1/4 c shopped fresh Italian parsley

1. Scrub the clams and rinse well. Place them in a large pot, add the water, cover, and turn the heat to high. Once you see a little steam escape from the pot, let the clams cook for about 5 minutes. Removed the lid and quickly move the clams around in the pot, so they will cook evenly, then cover and cook for 5 minutes more, or until the clams open.

2. Pour off the broth and reserve. After it has settled a bit, strain the broth, leaving the bottom 1/2 inch of broth (and sediment) in the container. You should have about 4 cups. Remove the clams from the shells, place in a bowl, and refrigerate until cold.

3. Dice the clams into small (1/3- to 1/2-inch pieces. Cover and refrigerate.

4. Rinse and dry the pot and heat over low heat. Add the salt pork and cook until crispy and brown. Add the butter, onions, garlic, celery, thyme, and bay leaf and sauté, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 10 minutes, until the onions are softened by not browned.

5. Add the potatoes and 4 cups reserved clam broth. The broth should just barely cover the potatoes; if it doesn't, add more broth or water. Turn the heat to high, cover the pot, and boil vigorously for about 10 minutes, until the potatoes are soft on the outside but still firm in the center. Smash a few potatoes against the side of the pot and stir them into the chowder to lightly thicken it.

6. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cream and diced clams. Season with black pepper; you may not need salt (the clams usually add enough of their own). If you are serving the chowder within the hour, just let it sit and "cure." Otherwise, let cool to room temperature and refrigerate it; cover it after it has chilled.

7. When ready to serve, reheat the chowder slowly over medium heat; do not let it boil. Ladle into cups or bowls and sprinkle with parsley.

Makes 3 quarts; serves 12 as an appetizer or 6 to 8 as a main course.

Recipe courtesy of The Summer Shack Cookbook

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