Jun 24

Old England clam chowder, super-quick!

Clam chowder recipe illustrationI’m ashamed to say that, despite spending a few months in New England in my youth, I never took the opportunity to sample their renowned clam chowder. Ten years on, the nagging regret made it’s way through the murky depths of my subconscious and I started haranguing the local fishmonger to get hold of some fresh clams.

Once the clams were in hand the chowder was amazingly simple and quick to make. The only qualm I had was the initial steaming of these cute little creatures. I never enjoy cooking live shellfish, especially endearing molluscs that look as if they are trying to communicate when they open and close their shells. It is best not let your imagination get the better of you, or bond with the little critters during the preparation. Obviously giving them names is a no-no.

Admittedly, since my clams were inhabitants of the British side of the Atlantic, the chowder was not geographically authentic but it was worth the wait of an entire decade to finally enjoy this celebrated dish.

Note on advance preparation: If you want to ensure that your clam chowder is free of sand and grit you will need to soak the clams in salted water for a few hours. Personally, I was too hungry so I omitted this procedure. Yes there was some sand in the bottom of our bowls but forewarned is forearmed. I was prepared to leave the last couple of mouthfuls of soup where the sand grains had settled and also managed to wrestle my husband’s dish away when I heard the sound of his spoon hitting grit. Obviously, this is not ideal if you have dinner guests so you may be willing to go the extra mile. I will leave it at your discretion.

Recipe: Super-quick clam chowder

The quantities below make two to three large portions, or four to six starter-sized portions.

  • 1kg fresh clams in shells
  • 1tbsp vegetable oil or butter
  • 2 thick slices of bacon, snipped into small pieces
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, finely diced
  • 2 or 3 medium-sized potatoes (around 250g), diced into about 1cm chunks
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 700 ml fish stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 50ml double cream
  • 1tsp lemon juice
  • 1tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wash the clams in running water, scrubbing the shells.

Put the clams in a large stock pan with about 100ml of boiling water. Cover the pan and bring back to the boil for 3 -5 minutes, or until the shells have opened. Do not overcook or the clams will become tough and chewy.

Discard any clams that have not opened their shell.

When cool enough to handle remove the clams from the shell and place in a bowl – if necessary use a knife to cut the section of muscle attaching the clams to the shell.

Chop the clams into small pieces and set aside. Refrigerate the chopped clams if you are not serving the soup straight away.

Heat the vegetable oil/butter in a pan and add the bacon pieces. Fry until the bacon is beginning to get crisp then add the onion and cook until softened.

Add the garlic, reduce the heat slightly and cook for another couple of minutes.

Add the potatoes to the pan and mix well then add the flour and stir to coat.

Pour in the fish stock then add the bay leaf and thyme. Cover the pan and simmer until the potatoes are cooked – around 10 minutes.

Before serving, add the chopped clams, cream, and seasoning to taste.

Heat the clam chowder gently – be careful that it does not boil otherwise it could curdle.

Stir through the parsley, lemon juice and serve immediately.

Enjoy the clam chowder with big chunks of crusty bread.

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