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The Chowder Bowl

The Super Bowl is a copyrighted phrase owned by the NFL, so I guess I'm not even really supposed to mention those words together in this here blog post.

I somehow doubt the league will run me down with a cease and desist order. Even so, maybe I'll just call it "The Big Game" to play it safe. You'll all know what I'm talking about, no?

So I was thinking the other day... The Big Game is coming up this very weekend (February 3rd, for those of you who only watch this one game each year) and I know that our newest national holiday is pretty much locked down as far as the menu goes. At any party you attend, you're likely to find chips and salsa, chili, hot wings, pizza, enormous party-size sandwiches, chips, dips and beer.

Now, that's all well and good, but I think we've never had a better year to make a big deal about the bowl. Is your bowl going to be New England or Manhattan?

It's an age-old rivalry, and both sides have their raving fans. We've probably all seen some good performances and some fumbles. So much depends on the quality of the players, I mean... ingredients.

I'm referring, of course, not to the showdown between the Pats and the Giants, but to a far older and far more epic battle: New England Clam Chowder vs. Manhattan Clam Chowder.

Chowders are thought to come from coastal Brittany, and the word, of course, from the French chaudière, which was a cauldron. This makes sense in the same way that, for example, a tagine supper is cooked in a clay tagine and a casserole dinner is cooked in a casserole dish. There's some other linguistic explanation about chowder's origins in an Old English word, jowter, which means fishmonger, but I don't buy that for a second. A creamy seafood stew just screams out as the product of Northern France, doesn't it?

But I digress... let's get back to the battle at hand.

fresh clams at the market

Chowders can be based in fish, crab, scallops or clams, but the secret to quality in any chowder is fresh seafood. If fresh clams or good quality fish cubes aren't an option, consider frozen seafood.

Personally, I'd like to see a couple of heavyweights do a throwdown on this one. Here's a Manhattan Clam Chowder recipe from Emeril and a New England-style Chowdah from talented (and prolific) recipe author Susan Hermann Loomis.

May the best chowdah win!

Emeril Lagasse's Manhattan Clam Chowder

8 pounds quahog or large cherrystone clams, scrubbed and rinsed, opened clams discarded
4 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch lengths
2 cups finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
3/4 cup diced carrot
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 1/4 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
1 cup chicken stock
3 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes or 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, chopped and juices reserved
1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt

In a large stockpot bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add clams, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Uncover, quickly stir clams well with a wooden spoon, and recover. Allow clams to cook 5 to 10 minutes longer (this will depend on the type and size of clams you are using), or until most of the clams are opened. Transfer clams to a large bowl or baking dish and strain broth through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl. (You should have about 6 cups of clam broth. If not, add enough water to bring the volume up to 6 cups.) When clams are cool enough to handle, remove them from their shells and chop into 1/2-inch pieces. Set clams and broth aside.

In a large heavy pot add bacon and render until golden and crispy. Pour off all fat except 4 tablespoons. Add onions, celery, bell pepper and carrots and cook for 10 minutes, until vegetables are softened. Do not allow to color. Add garlic, bay leaves, oregano, thyme and crushed red pepper and cook an additional 2 minutes. Increase heat to high and add potatoes, reserved clam broth, and chicken stock and bring to a boil, covered. Cook for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender and the broth has thickened somewhat. Add tomatoes and continue to cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and add reserved clams and parsley and season with pepper and salt, if necessary. Allow chowder to sit for up to 1 hour to allow flavors to meld, then reheat slowly over low fire if necessary. Do not allow to boil.

fresh clams at the market

The Great American Seafood Cookbook by Susan Hermann Loomis

Creamy Clam Chowder (Serves 4)

3 pounds Manila, butter, or littleneck clams, shells well scrubbed under cold running water
4 ounces slab bacon, rind removed, cut into 1/2 x 1/4 x 1/4-inch pieces
2 tender interior celery ribs, finely chopped
1 bunch (about 5) scallions, trimmed, the white bulbs and light green stems cut in thin rounds
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 even pieces
1/4 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced
Paprika, for garnish

1. Rinse the clams. Combine them with 1 cup of water in a medium-size saucepan. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook just until the clams open, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat. Drain the clams, reserving the liquor; discard any that do not open.
2. Remove the clams from their shells and reserve them, covered, so they don't dry out. Strain the clam cooking liquor through a double thickness of cheesecloth; reserve.
3. Render the bacon in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat until crisp and golden. Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels. Add the celery, scallions, and potatoes to the bacon fat and sauté just until the scallions and celery begin to turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the clam liquor and 1 cup of water. Cook until the potatoes are tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes.
4. Add the milk and cream, stirring occasionally and making sure the chowder doesn't boil, until heated through, about 10 minutes. Add the clams and cook until they are heated through, 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. To serve the soup, ladle into 4 soup bowls. Top each bowl with a pat of butter, a shower of parsley, and a dusting of paprika. Pass the bacon separately. Serve immediately.

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1.31.2008

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