Chowder: It’s not just clams anymore

“In the storm-tossed Chilean sea lives the rosy conger, giant eel of snowy flesh. And in Chilean stewpots, along the coast, was born the chowder, thick and succulent, a boon to man. You bring the conger, skinned, to the kitchen (its mottled skin slips off like a glove, leaving the grape of the sea exposed to the world), naked, the tender eel glistens, prepared to serve our appetites. Now you take garlic, first, caress that precious ivory, smell its irate fragrance, then blend the minced garlic with onion and tomato until the onion is the color of gold. Meanwhile steam our regal ocean prawns, and when they are tender, when the savor is set in a sauce combining the liquors of the ocean and the clear water released from the light of the onion, then you add the eel that it may be immersed in glory, that it may steep in the oils of the pot, shrink and be saturated. Now all that remains is to drop a dollop of cream into the concoction, a heavy rosé, then slowly deliver the treasure to the flame, until in the chowder are warmed the essences of Chile, and to the table come, newly wed, the savors of land and sea, that in this dish you may know heaven.”
“Ode to Conger Chowder”
by Pablo Neruda

The passion of the poet for his native Chile is not unlike the passion of our chefs for their local chowders. On Sept. 26 at the Greenport Maritime Festival, eight chowders competed in the annual chowder contest and were served to about a thousand hungry patrons. The steaming pots created a beautiful aroma of the sea. And they were all excellent versions of an old North Fork tradition. Here are some recipes from these chefs. (I have made some minor recipe alterations to suit the needs of the home cook.)

Indian Summer
Striped Bass Chowder
A Mano Restaurant, Mattituck
chef Tom Schaudel
Winner — Best in Show
Dice 4 ounces of pancetta and brown at medium heat in a heavy soup pot. Add 2 tablespoons butter along with 1 1/2 cups diced onion, 1 cup diced celery, 1 cup diced celery root, half of a red pepper and half of a yellow pepper, diced. Season with 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves and 2 bay leaves. Cook at low heat until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons flour and cook until roux smells “nutty.” Stir in 5 cups fish stock and simmer until lightly thickened. (Fish stock can be purchased at local fish markets.) Add 1 pound of diced fingerling potatoes (do not peel) and simmer for 10 minutes. Add 2 pounds of skinless, boneless striped bass that has been cut into 2-inch chunks. Simmer another 5 minutes and remove from the heat. Allow to set for 10 minutes.
Make a pumpkin/corn relish to garnish the chowder by heating 1 tablespoon olive oil and adding 1 cup diced pumpkin. Sauté briefly and add 1/3 cup diced red onion, 1 cup fresh corn kernels, 2 tablespoons each of minced red and yellow pepper, 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil and remove from the heat. Sprinkle over the chowder at service time.
Garnish the chowder with bread sticks or chowder crackers.

New England Clam Chowder
Townsend Manor Inn, Greenport
chef Ian Crowley
Winner — People’s Choice Award
Brown 4 ounces of diced salt pork in a heavy soup pot. Add 2 tablespoons butter along with 1 cup diced leeks, 1 cup diced celery, 1/2 cup diced scallion and 1 cup diced white onion. Cook until vegetables are soft, then add 1/4 cup flour.
Open 12 fresh chowder clams, reserving the liquor (or steam the clams open in 1 cup water). Add this clam liquor and 2 cups fish stock to the pot, stirring until lightly thickened. Add 2 cups diced Yukon Gold potatoes and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Chop the reserved clams and add along with 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano. Simmer on low heat and add 1 quart half-and-half. Season with coarse salt and black pepper to taste.

Manhattan Clam Chowder
Southold Fish Market
chef Charlie Manwaring
In a heavy soup pot sauté 4 ounces chopped bacon until cooked through. Add 3 stalks celery, diced; 1 medium onion, diced; and 1 diced carrot. Cook until soft. Open 18 chowder clams and reserve the juice (or steam open 18 chowder clams in 2 cups water). Add 1 quart clam juice or broth, 1 diced potato and 1 shredded potato. Simmer until potatoes are tender and add 1 small can diced tomatoes, 4 ounces tomato paste, 1 bay leaf and a pinch of both oregano and basil. Chop the reserved clams and add to the chowder. Add 1 teaspoon ground black pepper and simmer 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve.

Good Ground Clam Chowder
Dark Horse Restaurant, Riverhead
chef Jeff Trujillo
Steam 12 large chowder clams in 1 cup water, reserving both clams and broth. Chop the clams and reserve. Slice 3 strips of thick-sliced, applewood-smoked bacon into quarter-inch strips and sweat with 1 diced Spanish onion until soft but not brown. Add 1 quart water and 4 medium-size russet potatoes cut into quarter-inch dice. Bring to a boil and simmer 15 minutes. Cut the kernels off of 3 ears of sweet corn and add to the pot. Add 2 quarts of milk and return to a simmer. Add the chopped clams and their liquid. Season with salt and black pepper to taste and garnish with chopped parsley.
Good Ground is the old name for Hampton Bays.

Corn and Lobster Chowder
The Portly Grape , Greenport
chef John Norton
Split 2 lobsters, removing the head sac and cracking the claws. Shuck 4 ears of corn. Place the lobsters and shucked corn on a sheet pan and brush with olive oil. Roast at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove both from the oven and remove the meat from the lobster and cut the kernels off the corn.
Place the corn husks in a stock pot with the lobster bodies and cover with 1 quart vegetable broth. Add a sachet bag consisting of a bay leaf, 2 sprigs of thyme, 1 sprig of rosemary and 6 peppercorns. Simmer 1 hour and remove corn husks, sachet bag and lobster bodies.
In a separate soup pot melt 2 tablespoons butter and heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 cup chopped onions, 1/2 cup chopped leeks, 1 cup chopped celery and 1 cup diced white turnips. Sauté 10 minutes and deglaze with 1/2 cup white wine and 1/4 cup cognac. Add the stock to this mixture along with 1 cup chopped canned tomatoes, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, a pinch of saffron and 1 teaspoon sliced fresh ginger. Add back half the reserved corn (save the rest for garnish) and 1 cup heavy cream. Simmer for 15 minutes and purée in a food processor. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
For the garnish, chop the cooked lobster meat and 4 ounces cooked chorizo sausage. Combine with reserved corn and a little chopped chervil. Sprinkle over each portion of chowder and serve.

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].