closer to “home” clam chowder

I like food. All kinds of food prepared in all kinds of ways. In fact I’d like to think there aren’t that many food-realted absolutes in my world; sure I like my coffee strong, my chocolate dark and my curry spicy. I hate fast-food, I’m not a big fan of pb&j’s and I can’t stand pancakes. I am however willing to consider an exception to all those rules, if it’s the right exception. Where things become hard and fast is when we start talking about dishes connected to my Connecticut childhood.

My family was the car trip type; gas on up, pile on in and move on out. Whether it was driving for hours on our way to a fun-filled vacation or just going out for a drive because it was a beautiful Sunday without pressing plans— my parents were always up for it. We met a wide range of people on our travels and the opportunity to experience an endless array of different foods was always part of the adventure. It was fun, it was eye-opening and I’m pretty sure it was the basis for my love of food. I saw a considerable amount of the country from the backseat of our station wagon, but it was the time we spent traveling through the New England countryside that was always my favorite. This is no doubt the reason I have such a longing to move back and such an unflinching opinion on how some of the foods I associate with New England should be enjoyed. For example; In my book Lobster Rolls are carefree summer food meant to be eaten out of little paper trays, preferably at picnic tables with squawking sea gulls nearby. They should never be considered fancy restaurant food that costs a small fortune. French Fries taste the best cut thin and doused with salt and malted vinegar, not ketchup. (And take it from me, they taste even better if you happen to purchase them from a booth at a local country fair.) And Clam Chowder should never be anything but creamy and white. Sorry Rhode Island, but your permission to call the seafood soup you’re famous for clam chowder should be revoked. And don’t even get me stated on Manhattan.

Until recently I had never made New England Clam Chowder, but I figured there was no time like this snowy winter to give it a shot. I knew my son had grown fond of it while spending time in Connecticut with my parents, my husband I were already fans and my daughter was a soup lover from way back— so why not? The thing that made me hesitant about clam chowder, or any cream based soup for that matter, is its lofty calorie count. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t normally do things like count calories, avoid carbs or drink spritzers just to shave 100 calories off my day. But if a lighter version of something can appear, taste and satisfy the same way the full fat version does, then I’m all for it. So I decided that if I was going to make New England Clam Chowder I would try to make a “lighter” version. I did some recipe research and spoke with my dyed-in-the-wool New England mother (who frankly was aghast when I suggested possibly adding celery, garlic or a bay leaf to the recipe) and finally worked out a creamy, delicious but not overly guilt inducing recipe. A recipe that makes New Jersey seem a little closer to “home”.

New England Clam Chowder
This chowder is delicious with a thinner more traditional broth, not pasty, gloppy and heavy like clam chowder can sadly sometimes be.

clam chowder2

1 cup white wine
2 8 oz bottles clam juice
2 lbs. russet potatoes, peeled and diced large
3 slices bacon, minced
1 medium onion (about 2 cups), diced small
4 6.5 oz cans chopped clams*, drained, juices reserved
1/2 cup 2% milk
1 cup low-fat half and half
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1-2 tbsp. ground arrowroot powder
oyster crackers, for serving

  1. Drain the canned clams, reserving the juice and set aside. Add to a large pan the white wine, bottled clam juice, reserved clam juice and diced potatoes and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and set aside.
  2. Heat a large stock pot over medium heat, add the bacon and cook until it gets crispy and brown and render its fat. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the onions to the pot and sauté until they’re translucent, about 10 minutes. Lower the heat and gradually whisk in the milk and half and half.
  3. Bring just to a simmer, then stir in the clams, bacon and potato mixture and bring back to a simmer, stirring frequently. Allow to cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the black pepper and arrowroot powder (1-2 tablespoons depending on how thick you want the chowder) and serve with plenty of oyster crackers.

* When I set out to make this recipe I fully intended to use fresh clams however, the selection at the three stores I went to was pathetic! So instead I bought the best “gourmet” canned clams I could find and omitted any additional salt from the recipe. I still plan to try this recipe with fresh clams, but until then…

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