The first time I ever saw a clam, I was about 5 years old, living with my Mom, Dad and little brother in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My father was very into fishing, which a lot of people are in Minnesota, as it is the Land of 10,000 Lakes. However, in this case he had been fishing on the Minnesota River and brought home this huge clam to show my Mom. It was gray, about 6 inches across, and they decided to boil it to see if they could eat it. I stood on a chair to see and I remember that poor clam bouncing around in the boiling water, opening up and becoming more rubbery by the minute as my twenty-something parents poked it over and over, poking each other and giggling, “Do you think it’s done yet?” Well, obviously it was a failed experiment and the whole mess got thrown away.
The first time I ate Clam Chowder was thirty years later in about 1980 at a little dive restaurant in the Redondo Beach Marina, a seaside town in Los Angeles. You know the kind, 10 tables made from hatch covers, wrap-around picture windows to see the ocean, fishing nets hanging all around over the windows decorated with shells, starfish and little buoys. My friend insisted I try the clam chowder and that was the beginning of a great love affair. With clam chowder, I mean. Has anything ever been so creamy, buttery, clam-y and potato-y. Melt in your mouth with those little pieces of clam that taste so good. You can add homemade toasted Common Crackers for a special treat. Heaven in a bowl. And just the thing to warm you up on these cold wintry days.
New England Clam Chowder
Serves 6 to 8
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter
1 large onion, cut into ½-inch dice
2 stalks celery, cut into ½-inch dice
1/2 cup flour
2 baking potatoes, peeled, cut into ½-inch dice
4 cups whole milk
3 (6-ounce) cans minced clams, strained, chopped, juice reserved
1 cup minced curly parsley
½ pound white fish filet, cut into ½-inch dice (optional)
1 cup whipping cream
2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1. Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven. Add the onions and celery and cook over medium low heat until tender, about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.
2. Add flour and whisk to mix well, about 1 ½ minutes. Add potatoes, milk, reserved clam juice, half of parsley and whisk thoroughly. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the potatoes are tender, 10 to 20 minutes.
3. Add chopped clams and fish (if using) and simmer for 10 minutes.
4. Add the whipping cream, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes longer.
5. Save about 2 tablespoons of the remaining minced parsley in a small bowl for garnish, and add the rest to the chowder. Stir well.
6. Serve in warm bowls and garnish with reserved minced parsley.
Note: You may substitute 1 pound of salmon, cut in ¾-inch cubes, for the white fish filet. Add ½ cup or more milk to adjust consistency if necessary.