April 25, 2012

The Maine Ingredient: Feeling clammy? For chowderheads, here's a sure-fire cure

Briny clams are one of the most delicious of all seafoods, and thankfully, a lot of clams are still dug out of Maine flats. In fact, when Massachusetts experiences red tide, Maine waters and shorelines are generally safe.

click image to enlarge

Hard-shell clams, available chopped at most seafood counters, are perfect for this Boston-style chowder.

Courtesy photo

Soft-shell steamer clams are somewhat less plentiful than hard-shells, and one advantage of hard-shells is that you can buy containers of pasteurized chopped quahogs in their liquor at most seafood counters.

PORTLAND QUAHOG CHOWDER

Midcoast and Down East Mainers traditionally preferred chowders make with soft-shell clams floating in a milky broth, but people closer to Portland and on down to the state line usually made the Boston-style brew using hard-shell clams thickened lightly with flour. Nowadays, this is the more popular chowder statewide.

Servings: Six to eight main-course servings; about 3 quarts

4 ounces salt pork or bacon, chopped (about 1 cup)

1 large onion, chopped

¼ cup all-purpose flour

3 cups whole or low-fat milk

4 cups clam liquor, clam broth, bottled clam juice or a combination (see note)

4 to 5 cups diced all-purpose potatoes such as Yukon golds (about 1½ pounds)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried

3 cups coarsely chopped hard-shell clams (see note)

2 cups half-and-half

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

In a large soup pot, cook salt pork over medium-low heat until fat is rendered and pork bits are crispy, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove pork bits with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels, leaving drippings in the pan.

Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle on the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add milk and clam liquor, whisking until smooth. Add  potatoes, and if using dried thyme, add it now, too.

Simmer uncovered over medium to medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Add clams and fresh thyme (if using) and stir in the half-and-half. Continue to simmer until potatoes are very tender, 5 to 10 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Remove from heat and let sit at cool room temperature for at least an hour, or refrigerate for up to 2 days. (Chowder really improves with an overnight "aging.")

Before serving, add the butter and reheat gently. Ladle into bowls, and pass the reserved pork bits if you like.

NOTE: You can buy chopped fresh clams in their juice from a fish market or seafood section of the supermarket, and use the juice ("liquor") for part of the chowder liquid. Or use 5 quarts scrubbed hard-shell clams and steam them in a small amount of water just until they open, about 5 minutes. Then scrape out the clam meat and chop or cut it with scissors into cranberry-size pieces.

Pour the cooking liquid into a glass measuring cup, let any sediment settle, and pour off the clean broth to use in the chowder.

WHITE CLAM PIZZA

Baking pizza on a pizza stone does produce a superior crust, but if you don't have one, simply use cookie sheets – and a long-handled wooden "peel" is nice too, as a way to keep your hands away from the high oven heat. Either fresh or pasteurized hard-shell clams or good quality canned clams can be used for this pizza topping.

This "blond" pizza is good with a mixed green salad that includes tomatoes, cucumbers and green pepper.

Servings: Four

Uncooked pizza dough – two 10-ounce cans refrigerated dough or one (1 pound 4 ounce) package of dough

Cornmeal or semolina

1½ cups drained chopped hard-shell clams or 2 (6½ -ounce) cans chopped clams, drained, with juices reserved

(Continued on page 2)

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