Clam Chowdah in Austin

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I’m not a fan of football. I’m more of a super fan of eating.

And that’s exactly what Super Bowl Parties are for.

I generally enjoy entertaining, but football is just not my thing. I let other people get this one. Besides, since the world is apparently forgoing winter with exception to areas that normally rarely get it (like Rome), my lawn is entirely too long to have guests to the house and our lawn mower takes forever and is easily distracted.

As the New England Whatsits are playing in today’s little game against Madonna or whoever hell the opposing team is, I have decided to make Clam Chowder. To clarify: New England Clam Chowder. Because Manhattan Clam Chowder is like choosing to have a grilled cheese with Kraft singles when you have the option of Gruyere. It’s a joke.

I’ve offended my husband.

Chip likes Kraft singles. Oh, well.

After the last year or so of warm to deadly hot temperatures, Austin is finally experiencing a day of pseudo winter: the high temperature is expected to be a low 54 degrees with skies overcast and a wee bit rainy. Yeah, it’s not “winter” per se, but when seasons have been phased out due to global warming you learn take what you can get. What I’m saying is that today is as close to a perfect Austin day for Chowdah as one could ask for.

The Cliff House in Maine serves incredible clam chowder and has since 1872. My father, inspired by their famous dish, worked to create a simple, but truly delicious version of creamy clam chowder to make at home. And Dad likes good food. While I strive to make things lighter just as my preference, sometimes I like to play after dinner and don’t want to feel weighed down, I know I can always depend on Dad for something rich, something perfect for winter, something to induce a completely content food coma. So…the plus side: this recipe, which feeds 8-10 hungry people, contains only a single tablespoon of butter. The not-so-plus side? It also calls for 3 cups of heavy cream. You heard me.

NOTE: The spice blend is very important and use chopped clams from a fish monger, as opposed to canned, if at all possible. You will have extra spice blend left once you mix it all together, but you can put it in a ziploc baggie and freeze it – yes, freeze the spices, until the next time you want to make clam chowder. All in all, this recipe costs about $30 to make and when you consider the amount of people it feeds, we’re talking peanuts in terms of cost.

Spice blend

4 tsp dried oregano                 2 tsp dill weed              1 tsp sage

4 tsp dried parsley                   4 tsp thyme                   4 tsp rosemary

2 tsp marjoram                         4 tsp basil                     2 tsp tarragon

1 TBSP flour

If possible, blend everything in a mortar & pestle. If not, mix everything in a bowl and mash together with the back of a metal spoon (wood would absorb some of the oils you want to go into the chowder).

The actual Chowder Recipe:

9 Slices bacon, minced

1 TBSP butter

3 yellow onions, minced

3 medium to large cloves garlic, minced

1 medium to large shallot, minced

4 teaspoons of the above spice blend (Seriously, freeze the remainder. It’s tasty.)

6 TBSP all-pupose flour

3 – 4 cans clams (6.5 oz.) or 1.5 – 2 lbs previously frozen chopped clams

3 cups clams juice

3 cups heavy cream

1  cups milk

1 1/2 tsp white pepper

1 tsp black pepper

1.5 lbs potatoes, diced and boiled. You can peel your potatoes, too. I’m using smallish buttercreams, so I’m leaving the skins on.  Mash 1/2 of the potatoes for a richer Chowder consistency.

Over low heat in a stock pot, soup kettle, or – in my case – a wide pasta pot, saute the bacon and butter, allowing some of the fat to render from the fatty pork. Once a good bit of fat has eeked out, but the bacon is still a bit uncooked, add the onion, shallot, and garlic. Add the spice mix and don’t allow anything to brown. Continue sauteing over low heat, stirring periodically, for about 10 minutes or so, until the onions have softened a bit, but aren’t quite translucent.

Add the flour and clam juice. I whisked the flour and clam juice together in a bowl so I wouldn’t have to worry about flour clumps and added it to the pot. Once everything is mixed well, bring the temperature up to a boil. When a boil is reached, turn everything down to a simmer and throw in the heavy cream and milk. After that’s been simmering for 20 minutes or so, add the pre-boiled potatoes.

Do not add the clams until just a few minutes before serving.

If you are making this at your home to be served in right then and there then:

Toss in the clams after the potatoes, sprinkle in the white pepper, and turn heat up to reach desired serving temperature, but do not bring to a boil. Over cooking the clams or cooking them at too hot a temperature, say a boil, makes them tough and chewy rather than tender and flavorful. I like to top mine with a little sprinkling of the greens from the tips of fennel. I love the color and look, and it’s not as strong as dill would be (similar in look) and adds a delicate new flavor that’s only just noticeable, but very delicious.

As I will be bringing this dish to a friend’s home, ideally I would bring the chowder mixture to their house, covered and on a towel on the floor of the backseat,  commandeer a burner on their stove top, reheat, and throw in the clams and white pepper, and bring to serving temperature at that point.

My recommendation: Don’t travel with hot clam chowder. Just eat it at your house.

And don’t share.

I wish I had a better picture to share, but once the food hit the table everyone dug in. The chowder was rich and flavorful, the clam chunks abundant. It was excellent on a cold, wet day to celebrate New England! Go sports!

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