Monday, December 27, 2010

"It's Chowda!"* -- Easy and Delicious Clam Chowder

When I was growing up, chowder was one of my mom's go-to recipes partly because all of us kids liked it and partly because it was so inexpensive to make. I love this recipe not only because it's inexpensive and one of my mom's recipes, but because it's really, really easy to make. And in the wintertime, it's hard to resist a steaming bowl of chowder for dinner.

There's a good chance you have just about everything to make clam chowder on hand, with the exception of the clams. I like to keep a couple cans of clams in my pantry during the winter so I can whip up this dinner easily. Here's the list of ingredients, along with the measurements:

2 cups potatoes, finely chopped
1 cup celery, finely chopped
1 cup carrots, finely chopped
2 7-1/2 oz. cans of chopped clams
1 quart (4 cups) of half-and-half (I didn't use half-and-half. More on that in a moment...)
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup flour
Salt and pepper (and other seasonings. Again, more on that later....)

Cut up all your vegetables. In a large pot, combine vegetables with clam juice (don't add the clams) and enough water to barely cover the vegetables.

When the vegetables are tender, drain, but be careful to reserve a cup or two of the broth. You use the flavorful broth to adjust the consistency of the chowder before serving.

Next, make the white sauce.  First, you'll start with a roux by melting the butter over medium heat then adding the flour. Let the roux cook for about a minute. Add the half-and-half.  Stir constantly with a whisk until thickened and bubbling. Getting it to this stage took a little over five minutes for me.

Note:  I don't know how often my mom even used half-and-half, though her recipe says so. On the recipe I copied from her, she added "2% milk works".  I figure she wrote that because that's what she had on hand whenver she made chowder.  Yesterday, when I made this batch, I used the rest of the whole milk I had on hand (about a cup) and mixed it with 3 cups (or so) of 1% milk. Worked fine. Granted, the sauce will be creamier and will thicken more quickly if you use the half-and-half or even the 2% milk, but you can improvise.

Pour the cream sauce over the cooked vegetables. Add clams. Stir. Adjust consistency with the reserved cooking water.

Season to taste.  My mom's recipe doesn't have specific amounts for seasoning. She just listed some suggestions: salt, pepper, celery salt, garlic salt, parsley flakes, sugar, and red wine vinegar.  Personally, I think this stage is kind of fun because I get to pretend I'm some sort of gourmet chef, adding a dash of this and a splash of that.

In the batch I made yesterday, I used kosher salt, freshly ground peppper (as you can see above), celery salt, parsley flakes, just a dash of sugar, and few good splashes of red wine vinegar. Just do a little bit of seasoning at a time, taste it, and add more if necessary. You can also add more cooking water, depending on how thick or thin you like your chowder.

And that's it. Delicious, homemade clam chowder.  So good, so filling. Even better when served in a bread bowl. It's one of Mom's classic recipes for a reason.

*"Showdaire? It's chowda!"  If you caught that Simpsons reference, you're a friend of mine. Love those classic episodes.

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