Wednesday, April 6, 2011

PATH Clam Chowder

On my way home from the city on the PATH train Saturday night, I found myself in a conversation about clam chowder nuances with an intoxicated Yankees fan.  Still not sure how it came to that, but the outcome was a realization that though I love clams and I love soup, I have never made clam chowder because I am used to traditional New England versions with recipes like this one which seems to defy the laws of volume by featuring more than 500 calories and and 30g fat per one-cup serving.

Manhattan clam chowder?  Kind of always seemed like a sacrilege in the vein of Canadian bacon and savory oatmeal (sorry Bittman, not on board).  But then I got to thinking about doing a lighter NE version, and maybe mixing it with the tomatoey NY soup to make something with the consistency of a light seafood stew but the flavor of pasta vodka.  I bounded out of bed on Sunday morning with clams on my mind, dead set on making this a reality.

Now, would this be better with fresh clams?  Probably.  But here is a visual aid for cost comparison purposes:

The "Worth it?" vector represents my enthusiasm to make a particular recipe.  The greater the distance above the "worth it?" vector a dish lies, the greater its perceived success will be once cost is taken into consideration.  You'll notice that up to the $10 mark, something can even rate poorly on objective deliciousness, however my perception will be extremely enjoyable since it cost so little.  Once the $15 mark is reached (my typical restaurant decision making price-point), the "worth it" vector rapidly plateaus.

One dozen fresh little-neck clams is approximately equivalent to one 6.5oz can for recipe substitution purposes, and Shop Rite prices rang in at $5.50/dozen versus the most excellent deal of three 6.5oz cans for $4.  So even if the fresh clams score an 8 in objective tastiness, a full point above their canned counterparts, the perceived tastiness of the canned clams is at least double.  Add to that the proportional effort of opening four cans versus steaming and shucking 48 clams and, well, there wasn't even a choice to be made here.

Right.  So now that's thoroughly justified, onto the soups.  Both of these are delicious on their own as well as mixed together, however the pink clumpy soup doesn't make for a super appetizing photo.  Serve these concurrently in a delicately swirled pattern and sell the combination as peace in the northeast.

At least with chowder - not baseball obviously.

PATH Clam Chowder
Cobbled together from Food Network, Martha Stewart, and Gourmet recipes and heavily adapted

If you made these at the same time, you can just drain the bacon grease from the first pot into the second and chop all the veggies at once.  It doesn't really take any more time than one or the other.

Manhattan Clam Chowder
Makes about 2.5L
Total time: 60 minutes (Active time 20)

  • 2 strips of bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) white wine
  • 2 x 6.5 oz (185g) cans of chopped clams in juice
  • 28 oz can (800g) of whole tomatoes in juice
  • 1 large potato, scrubbed and diced (about 3/4lb/340g)
  • 1-2 cups (1/4-1/2L) low-sodium veggie or chicken stock
  • chopped parsley (optional)
  • salt and pepper

Spray a large pot with oil and add the bacon, spreading the bits out over medium heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon bits are crispy and the fat is rendered out, about 15 minutes.

Chop the vegetables while the bacon is cooking.  Remove bacon from the pot when it is crispy and set aside.  Drain all but 1 tablespoon of grease and add the onion, celery, and carrots and cook until starting to brown (5-7 minutes).

Add garlic, oregano, basil, cayenne (if using), and white wine.  Stir to scrape up any browned bits.  Add juice from the clam and tomato cans and add the tomatoes, breaking them up by hand.  Add the potatoes and enough stock to cover them.  Simmer on medium heat until potatoes are cooked (about 20 minutes).

When potatoes are tender, add clams, bacon bits, and parsley (if using) and stir to heat through.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Slightly Lighter New England Clam Chowder
Makes about 1.5L
Total time: 45 minutes (Active time 20)

  • 2 tablespoons bacon grease/butter/olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 1/4 cup (30g) flour
  • 2 x 6.5 oz (185g) cans of chopped clams in juice
  • 2 cups (1/2L) milk
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 small potatoes, scrubbed and diced (a little over 1 lb/500g)
  • 1-2 cups (1/4-1/2L) low-sodium veggie or chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper

Heat fat in a large pot and saute onions and celery over medium heat until softened, about 5-7 minutes. 

Sprinkle flour over onions and celery and stir until well-coated.  Add juice from the clams and milk and stir to combine.  Add the potatoes and enough stock to cover them, and simmer on medium heat until potatoes are cooked (about 20 minutes).

When potatoes are tender, add clams and vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper.


  1. I love your blog! Please keep writing it! I've eaten way to old milk, Cheese that I had to scrape the mold off and even steak that had a nice coating on it. It's aged steak right?
    Thanks so much,

  2. @Aurora

    I'll definitely keep it up as no other topic provides as much inspiration for me as food. I'm glad there is another appreciator out there of the aged steak coating. It's basically the same as the white coating on brie.