Sumptuous chowders of sea and land

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07/08/2010 12:00 AM |

First lay some onions to keep the pork from burning

Because in chouder there can be not turning;

Then lay some pork in slices very thin,

Thus you in chouder always must begin.

Next lay some fish cut crossways very nice

Then season well with pepper, salt, and spice;

Parsley, sweet-marjoram, savory, and thyme,

Then biscuit next which must be soak’d some time.

Thus your foundation laid, you will be able

To raise a chouder, high as tower of babel;

For by repeating o’er the same again,

You may make a chouder for a thousand men.

Last a bottle of claret, with water eno to smother ’em,

You’ll have a mess which some call omnium gather ’em.”

from the Boston Evening Post, Sept. 23, 1751

excerpted from “50 Chowders” by Jasper White

Chowder has a rich history in America and around the world. The word evolved from the Latin “calderia,” which was a place for warming things, to the English “cauldron,” or cooking pot. In French it became “chaudiere” and included fish stews along the Atlantic coast of France. But clam chowder is an American institution that survives from colonial times. American settlers used salt pork as their base and ship’s biscuits (hard tack) as a thickener. Native Americans taught them about clams, which were plentiful and cheap, and potatoes and onions rounded out the recipe. At some point in New England milk was added to form the now famous “New England clam chowder.” Portuguese fishermen in Rhode Island are said to have introduced the tomato to chowder instead of milk. This became the now famous “Manhattan clam chowder.” More recently, chowder is any hearty soup with chunks of potato and vegetables. On the North Fork, where traditions of New England merge with culinary traditions of New York, many kinds of chowder are served, but clam chowder, corn chowder and fish chowder are the most common.

When making clam chowder on the North Fork, you should use fresh hard-shell clams, either cherrystones or chowders. There are two ways to prepare them for a recipe: The first is to open them over a small bowl with a paring or clam knife. Transfer clam and juice to a larger bowl. In this way a bad clam will not spoil the batch. When all clams are open, lift the clams out of their juices with a slotted spoon. Let the sand settle out of the juice and pour it into a clean container.

The second method is to scrub the clams and place them in a large pot with a lid. Add about 1 cup of water (or more) and bring them to a boil. When they all open, remove the clams and discard the shells. Let the liquid settle and pour it into a clean container. A third method is to use canned or frozen chopped clams along with bottled clam juice. This works if you live in the Midwest, but is not acceptable on the North Fork, where clams are readily available.

Manhattan Clam Chowder

Purchase 12 cherrystone clams and shuck them, saving the juice. Dice 4 strips of bacon and cook at medium heat in a heavy saucepan until brown. Add 1 chopped Spanish onion and 3 stalks of diced celery to the bacon. Cook until vegetables are soft and add 1 1/2 cups diced potato and 1 cup of diced carrots. Stir in 1 can (14.5 ounces) of diced tomatoes and water plus clam juice to make 4 cups. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and season with 2 sprigs of thyme, 1 bay leaf, a pinch of red pepper flakes and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Chop the reserved clams and add to the chowder. Mix 1 tablespoon cornstarch with 1 tablespoon cold water and add to chowder along with 1/4 cup chopped parsley. Bring to a boil and serve with oyster crackers.

Makes 2 quarts.

Monkfish Chowder

Purchase 1 pound of monkfish filet and 1 pint container of fish stock from your local fish market. Trim the fish filet and cut into 1-inch pieces. Dice 4 strips of bacon and cook at medium heat in a heavy saucepan. Add 1 diced Spanish onion and 1 tablespoon minced garlic. When the onion is soft, stir in 2 cups of diced potato and continue to cook. Drain a 14.5-oz. can of diced tomato and add along with the pint of fish stock and 1 cup of shredded fresh carrot. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes, and add the pieces of monkfish. Simmer gently for 5 minutes and add 1 cup of heavy cream. Season with 1 teaspoon coarse salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Serve with 1 tablespoon grated cheddar cheese on each portion.

Makes 2 quarts of hearty stew.

Corn Chowder

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy saucepan and add 1 strip of diced bacon. Cook until the bacon renders its fat and add 1 cup of chopped Spanish onion. Saute briefly and add 1/2 cup of chopped celery and 1/2 cup of chopped carrot. Shuck 4 ears of corn and remove the kernels with a small knife. Break the cobs in half and add them to the vegetables in the saucepan. Stir in 2 tablespoons of flour to make a roux and continue to cook on medium heat. Add 3 cups of milk and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Place a cover on the pot and simmer at very low heat for 25 minutes.

Remove the corn cobs and bay leaf and add 2 cups of diced potato and 1/2 cup of diced red pepper to the pot. Season with 1 teaspoon of coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and simmer until potato is tender, about 20 minutes. Add the reserved corn kernels and 1 cup of heavy cream. Bring back to a boil and add 1/4 cup of chopped parsley and 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme. Simmer another 5 minutes, check for seasoning, and serve.

Makes 2 quarts.

Roasted Corn and Chicken Chowder

Purchase 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and 4 ears of corn. Grill the chicken over charcoal and cut into 1-inch pieces. Shuck the corn, brush with oil and grill until golden, about 5 minutes. Scrape the kernels off and reserve. Break the cobs in two and reserve. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a soup pot and stir in 1 teaspoon cumin and 2 teaspoons curry powder. Add 1 chopped Spanish onion, 1 minced jalapeño pepper, and 2 tablespoons minced garlic. Cook briefly and add the corn cobs along with 4 cups of chicken broth. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the corn cobs and add 1 14.5-ounce can of diced tomato. Peel and dice 2 sweet potatoes and add to the broth.

When potatoes are tender stir in 1 can of coconut milk and the reserved pieces of chicken breast. Fold in the corn kernels, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, and 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice. Check for seasoning and serve.

Makes 2 quarts.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. E-mail: [email protected]