Long ago we lived in Maritime Canada. However, my affair with clams began when I made that fateful first drive up to Boston in the fall of 1967. I had no idea where I was going, but I had a map, a car, enough money for a few nights on the road. I believe I stopped the first night someplace in Conneticutt after driving right through New York on I95 at rush hour. Those were the days, my blue GTO could take me anywhere.
The second night, I stopped just south of Boston and on a lark I tried some fried clams. I was hooked. There were a couple of places in Harvard Square that had great fried clams, but soon I discovered clam chowder. When real whole fried clams were nowhere to be found, there was always a bowl of chowder to sample. Even today, if I am not trying to be good and stay away from rich food, I judge a restaurant by the quality of its clam chowder. It is easy to make thick chowder with no taste or one so rich that you can't taste the clams. Making a great bowl of clam chowder with just the right taste of clams is the sign of a great cook.
Maybe looking for that great bowl of chowder was one of the good reasons to go live in the Maritimes for sixteen years. It is a little ironic that the best clam chowder that I have ever eaten comes from someone who never met a clam until she was over twenty one.
I don't remember when my North Carolina bride made her first pot of clam chowder. Perhaps she was searching for a meal that would bury forever the boiled salt cod fish, potatoes, salt pork and beer that was a maritime favorite. Sometime in the first year in St. Croix Cove, Nova Scotia, Glenda remembers making her first pot of clam chowder. We even tried it with fresh steamed clams but figured out they were better dipped in butter and that the ones in a can did just fine for chowder. Over the years she has refined "the recipe."
Not many cold days go by in the fall before I start feeling like I need some clam chowder. It usually takes hinting for a week or so before we finally hit the grocery store and buy the ingredients.
Now six bowls and a couple of days into the latest batch, I can say it is the best yet. Here is the recipe. It is one of those "cook until done" recipes with lots of room for experimentation.
There are not many exact measurements but with the spirit of adventure you can make this chowder your own.
Cook until perfect five slices of Hormel Black Label bacon. Drain bacon on paper towel and save for later.
Leave the bacon drippings in the frying pan.
Take one large onion diced, one rib of celery diced and add to frying pan.
Cook until translucent in the bacon drippings.
Peel and cut into 1/2 inch cubes three large potatoes.
Add potatoes, cooked onions and celery to a large pot.
Add water until it is two inches over the vegetables.
Cover, bring to a boil and simmer covered until potatoes are tender.
Add three tablespoons of Minor's Clam Base- available at Amazon.com or http://www.soupbase.com/
Add undrained three large cans (8 oz) of minced clams.
Bring back to a good simmer and let simmer for a few minutes.
Thicken chowder with flour and milk mixed together (approximately 1/2 cup flour mixed with 1 1/2 cups of milk- we use skim milk) Gradually add, while stirring constantly.
Cook until thickened, you might need to add more flour and milk, just experiment until you find how you like it.
Add one pint of half and half, simmer until hot, DO NOT BOIL after you add the half and half.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with bacon crumbles and an optional 1/2 teaspoon of butter in each bowl. For an added treat we serve with slices of a French Batard bread that we buy on the market here in Roanoke. The bread is very similar to the bread bowls of San Francisco. If you are near a Panera, they can sell you some bread bowls.
May the great clam be with you.