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Friday, February 20, 2015

Manhattan Clam Chowder Redux

Manhattan Clam Chowder
Six years (and nine days) ago today, I hit publish for the first time. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I wasn't familiar with the world of blogging. The number of blogs I'd even seen could be counted on one hand. I'd only recently left the restaurant world and gotten the internet at home, which meant I no longer had to shlep to the library with three young kids in tow in order to connect with the modern world.

The very first recipe I shared was for Manhattan Clam Chowder. I wrote a short, two sentence introduction proclaiming how much I loved soup. The sentiment holds true today, but I like to think I've come a long way since I those days in my tiny kitchen, snapping photos under artificial light with my little pink camera. I like to think that culinary school, an appreticeship, and working everywhere from fine dining restaurants to university test kitchens reinforced my cooking and recipe development chops, but my delivery left a lot to be desired.

I'd always enjoyed writing, but I rarely had the patience to do it well. Like many, I had teachers and professors who told me I had talent. But if I'm being honest with myself, I was just too lazy to do anything about it. The past six years has helped me develop the patience to sit down, form complete ideas, and actually write. I'm not saying it comes easy now, just that I've learned to enjoy and appreciate the process—and the end result, when it comes out as planned.

Manhattan Clam Chowder
I no longer use that little pink camera to take photographs. Although, it's really not about the camera, it's about the photographer. It's about turning off the overhead light and taking advantage of that sunlight streaming through my window. It's about the rule of thirds, and occasionally straddling my picnic table to get just the right shot. It's about raiding every thrift shop and clearance sale that crosses my path to find dishes, silverware, or linens that might just be perfect for a future photo shoot. I still have a long way to go with this aspect, but if I ever start getting down on myself or feeling "less than", I simply have to go back to that first post (or pretty much any post during my first year or two of blogging) to remind myself how far I've come.

The funny thing is, not only have my writing and photography improved, so have those aforementioned cooking and recipe development chops.  I mean, it's not really all that funny; spending the majority of one's waking hours practicing something inevitably makes them better at it.

So today, six years (and nine days), I'm once again hitting publish—with only slightly more of a clue at what the next six years holds.

Manhattan Clam Chowder
This Manhattan Clam Chowder is laden with clams and chunks of potato nestled in a tomato-based broth with a hint of underlying heat, and a bit of smokiness lent by the addition of bacon.
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Manhattan Clam Chowder
by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 60 minutes
Keywords: simmer soup/stew dairy-free nut-free soy-free sugar-free bacon clams tomatoes American

Ingredients (serves 6)
  • 1 pound small clams, scrubbed (about 24-26)
  • 1 (10 ounce) can of whole baby clams
  • 4 ounces bacon
  • 1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 stalks celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 large carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes, or to taste
  • 12 ounces Yukon gold potatoes (about 2 medium), cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 6 cups clam broth, stock or juice (or seafood stock, water, or a combo) (See Notes)
  • 1 (14 ounce) can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
Place the clams in a large pot and cover with 1 quart of water. Set pot over medium-heat heat and bring to a boil, then cover, and reduce to a simmer. Cook until all the clams have opened, about 12 minutes; discard any clams that don't open. Set a strainer over a bowl and line it with cheesecloth or a damp coffee filter; pour the cooking liquid through the strainer. Remove the clams from their shells.

Drain the canned clams, adding the juice to the reserved clam broth from above. Combine the clams; run your knife through half of the clams a few times, just to roughly chop some. Set combined clams and broth aside (this will count towards your 6 cups).

Cut the bacon crosswise ito 1/4-inch strips. Put in a heavy pot or Dutch oven over low heat, stirring occasionally, and cook until done, 12-14 minutes. Scoop out the bacon and transfer it to a paper towel-lined plate; reserve. You should have about 2 tablespoons of bacon grease left in the pot; if you don't, add a bit of oil or fat to make that amount.

Set the pot back on the stove over medium heat and add onions, celery, and carrots. Cook until beginning to soften, 7-8 minutes. Add garlic, bay leaf, thyme, and crushed red chile flakes; cook 1 minute longer. Add potatoes, clam broth (or other recommended liquid), and tomatoes with their juices. Bring back to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Stir in the reserved clams and bacon, plus the parsley and white pepper. Cook gently for another 3-5 minutes without letting it come to a boil (to keep clams from getting tough). Remove from heat then taste and adjust seasoning (don't add any salt until you've tasted, it may not need it because of the bacon, tomatoes and broth). Remove bay leaf and thyme stems before serving.

I like to garnish mine with a couple of clean clam shells (that can picked out easily), but that's all for looks.

If you don't want to use this reserved clam broth, or if you don't have enough, you could make up the difference (or substitute) with bottled clam juice, seafood stock, or water.

If you don't have access to fresh clams, you can substitute them with 4 to 6 ounces of canned clams (whole or chopped). Save the juices, and sub as much clam juice, stock, or water as you need to get the amount of broth you need for the recipe.
Manhattan Clam Chowder
I am sharing this soup with Deb's Souper Sundays!

More for the Chowdah Heads:
Chicken Corn Chowder
Rhode Island Clam Chowder
Smoked Salmon Chowder
Sweet Corn and Shrimp Chowder