Perhaps chowder isn’t the most typical of holiday dishes, but I think it’s the perfect winter soup. Creamy and simple, it’s comforting and delicious. And even more so if you make it with clams freshly dug from the sand, as many locals here do all through the winter. The classic recipe has very little ingredients – salt pork, potatoes, clams, milk – and sometimes onions and butter. My friend Jimmy makes a more colorful version with carrots and celery that is very tasty indeed. And he makes it with clams that he and his sweetie, Ezra, dig from the bay by the Breakwater in the early morning.
Dr. Jimmy’s Breakwater Chowder
2 or more slices bacon 1 large white or yellow onion 1 large or 2 smaller celery stalks 1 medium carrot 2 or more potatoes ¼ flour 25 or more fresh clams 1 cup clam juices, from steaming 1 quart half-and-half, 4 cups salt and pepper
Clean, peal and chop the vegetables into sugar cube-sized pieces, keeping the chopped potatoes apart from the others. (You’ll have about 2 cups of onion, 1 cup each of celery and carrot, and 3 or more cups of potatoes.) Scrub the clams well, discarding any that are cracked or open. Put the scrubbed clams in a large pot with a generous cup of cold water, cover the pan, and bring the water to a rapid boil over a high flame. As soon as the water boils, lower the flame so the water is no longer boiling, and steam the clams slowly, for about 5 to 7 minutes or more, until they open. (You don’t want to boil the clams in a lot of water; only enough to make some steam and leave a little broth.) Now put the open clams into a bowl using a slotted spoon or tongs, leaving most of the liquid in the pot. Strain the broth through a coffee filter or paper towel into a small bowl, and set aside. Discard any unopened clams, and, when the clams are cool, chop them into 6 or eight pieces each, and set aside in a bowl, discarding shells. (You’ll have about 5 cups of chopped clams.) Meanwhile, crisp but don’t burn the bacon, save the fat in the pan, and drain the bacon on paper towels before cutting or crumbling into small pieces into the bowl of chopped clams. (Scissors are great for cutting bacon.) Put the onion, carrot and celery in the bacon fat with a teaspoon of salt, and toss them in the pan over a high flame until softened, lightly covered in fat, and the onions are translucent. Lower the flame, and sprinkle the flour over the vegetables through a strainer (a small tea strainer is ideal), tossing the flour through the all the vegetables with a big spoon. Let the flour cook for a moment, but don’t let it color. Scald the half-and-half in a fairly ample pot with the reserved broth, about 1 cup. (You want tiny bubbles around the edge of the pan, no boiling, so use a low flame.) Carefully put the cooked vegetables into the larger pot, and raise the flame only slightly. Stir the vegetables and flavored cream, add the chopped potatoes and cook for about 6 minutes. Ad the clams and bacon, heat through, and taste a potato to make sure it’s cooked through. Add salt and pepper as desired. Chowda!