The Texas-sized rivalries that surround a bowl of chili -- should it be made with beans or without, be beefed up or meatless? -- have an eastern counterpart. Clam chowder fans divide themselves into two staunch camps: those who prefer their soup creamy white and those who would indulge in nothing that wasn't tinged tomato red.
What has been touted as a traditionally American dish, right up there with apple pie, actually has its roots in France, where coastal fishermen were known to prepare batches of the hearty concoction in a cauldron, or chaudie re, from which the term chowder originates. Moreover, according to author Richard J. Hooker in "Food and Drink in America" (The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1981), the earliest American adaption included neither milk nor tomatoes but simply "fish, onions, biscuits and water."
Fortunately for the judges of Boston's Harborfest chowderfest competition, which coincides with a week's worth of celebration including the 4th of July, the soups served along the waterfront are somewhat more complex. Last year, an estimated 6,000 visitors put their palates to the test by sampling the soups of 10 local eateries to determine which made the city's best chowder. After a full day of tasting -- and for the second year in a row -- the fledgling Turner Fisheries Restaurant, named after the respected Boston wholesaler, was awarded first prize. On July 5, the eatery hopes to capture the coveted title a third straight time.
You won't have to wait until summer or travel any further than your local market to prepare the restaurant's purist version of clam chowder, certain to please that cream-loving contingent. The key to this recipe is in the fresh clams, so be sure to select a market with a good fish counter, avoiding clams that are cracked or even slightly opened. The award-winning recipe uses white pepper and bay leaf, which are listed as optional ingredients in this Express Lane adaptation.
Express Lane list: Cherrystone clams, garlic, onion, celery, thyme, potato, clam juice, whipping cream TURNER FISHERIES RESTAURANT'S CLAM CHOWDER (8 to 10 servings)
16 cherrystone clams
1/2 cup clarified butter
1 large clove minced garlic
1 medium onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon white pepper (optional)
1 bay leaf (optional)
1/2 cup flour
1 large potato, diced
Approximately 32 ounces clam juice (including that reserved from steamed clams)
1 pint whipping cream
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Wash clams thoroughly. Place them in a heavy-bottomed pot with 1/2 cup water. Cover tightly and steam until clams open, approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Remove clams from shells, chop coarsely and reserve, along with broth, in a separate container.
In the same pot, gently heat the clarified butter and add the garlic; saute' 2 to 3 minutes. Add onion, celery, thyme and optional spices. Saute' until onions are translucent. Add flour to make a roux, stirring constantly to avoid lumps and cooking 1 to 2 minutes. Be careful that the mixture does not brown or burn. Slowly add clam juice (including that which was reserved), stirring to avoid lumps. Simmer 10 minutes. Add potatoes and cook until tender. Stir well to avoid clumping. Add cream and clams; return to a quick boil and season to taste with freshly ground pepper.