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.


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.


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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