Simple Art of Cooking: Red & White Clam Chowda, Served Hot

On a sunny October day the Montauk Green was wall-to-wall people lining up for a taste of the 32nd annual clam chowder contest. Judges were given a choice of Manhattan (red) or New England (white). Most of us preferred to taste white but somehow I sided with the red contingent. I also met Laura Luciano, who has an impressive blog, outeastfoodie.com.

Sally Krusch, former market researcher and volunteer, along with Laraine Creegan, Chamber of Commerce director and Pat Shea, Chamber event coordinator arranged the event. Judges were given personalized sheets with coordinating chowder numbers and four points to judge by appearance, body, balance and taste. All nine judges were local foodies as well. To alternate tastings, bottled water was available, along with ale and white wine, supplied by Montauk residents.

First prize winners were Solé East, white, and John Pancake House’s red. Laura and I both picked the winning red. Only two whites were offered to us, and we liked one of them very much, Gosman’s, which won second place. They’re gone for the season and so is their recipe. Solé East, whose recipe wins year after year, is a restaurant secret, but owner David Ceva, who prepares the chowder himself, shared his use of several varieties of clams, a basic roux and their own clam stock. And Joel Velentin, chef of Tre Bella, shared his third place white recipe.

These recipes are my adaptations:

JOHN’S PANCAKE HOUSE MANHATTAN CLAM CHOWDER
Add clams with their broth when chowder is fully cooked so clams don’t overcook.
Serves 8 to 10
1 dozen chowder clams, scrubbed well
Reserved clam juice
1 1/2 pounds chefs potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium Spanish onion, finely chopped
2 whole carrots, peeled, sliced and diced
4 stalks celery, rinsed, trimmed and diced
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 pound, 12 ounce can plum tomatoes, crushed
4 ounce can tomato purée
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Place the clams in the freezer for 15 minutes to make them easier to shuck, or have fishmonger shuck clams, saving the juice. Strain juice through a cheesecloth and set aside with shucked clams.

2. Parboil potatoes in a saucepan for 4 to 5 minutes, strain and reserve.

3. Heat oil in a large saucepan and add the onion. Stir and sauté onion about 2 to 3 minutes until translucent, then add the carrots, celery and garlic and sauté, stirring for 3 to 4 minutes longer. Crush the canned tomatoes by hand and add, with juice and the tomato purée, to the vegetables. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and add the blanched potatoes. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 16 to 18 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Turn off heat and add the clams and reserved juice. Let stand covered for 5 minutes to cook the clams off heat. Clams should be tender and briny. Serve hot.

TRE BELLA’S NEW ENGLAND CLAM CHOWDER
Serves 6 to 8
1 dozen little neck clams, scrubbed well
4 slices bacon, cut into pieces
3 stalks celery. rinsed, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 Spanish onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 quart reserved clam broth
1 quart heavy cream
4 medium chefs or Yukon gold potatoes, cut into
1/2-inch dice
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Place clams in a 4 to 5 quart saucepan with 1 1/2 quarts fresh water, cover and bring to the edge of boil. Reduce heat, simmer clams until they open. With a slotted spoon transfer the clams to a large colander over a bowl to reserve the clam broth. Return broth to the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat and reduce to about 4–4 1/2 cups, strain and reserve. Scoop meat from the clamshells, discarding shells. Chop the clams coarsely and reserve.

2. Rinse and dry the pot the clams cooked in and brown the bacon in the pan until crispy. Drain the oil and add the celery, onion and garlic. Stir to mix and cook until ingredients are lightly browned. Add flour and stir over low heat for two minutes to make a roux, then stir in the clam juice and heavy cream. Add the potatoes and seasonings and simmer over medium low heat for about 50 minutes to an hour, stirring frequently, until potatoes are tender.

Serve hot.

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