It’s sweltering hot here today in Central Florida, so I made a pot of New England Clam Chowder. Yes, the weather is in the high 90’s but the heat factor makes it feel like the low 100’s. We should be eating chilled soups, salads. and ice cream! Instead, we sat in the nice cool house and enjoyed a bowl of hot chowder.
I’ve been thinking about a bowl of clam chowder all week. My favorite clam chowder is Rhode Island clam (quahog) chowder. It’s similar to New England clam chowder without the half-n-half. My dad’s favorite is Manhattan clam chowder. It’s a tomato based chowder with a bit of a kick. Of the three, the Manhattan clam chowder is my least favorite. I do like it, but I prefer the strong clam taste of the other two chowders. My husband and son’s favorite is New England clam chowder, so they’re both happy today.
When I was growing up, we visited my family in Rhode Island during the summers. We went clamming in the ocean by digging our big toes in the cold wet ocean floor until we hit a clam shell. Later, we made clam cakes or stuffed clams (called stuffies in Rhode Island) or Manhattan clam chowder. I’ve been addicted to clams ever since my childhood.
When I first moved to Florida, I noticed that clams were used for fishing bait. It was definitely a downer to see my precious clams hanging out in bait buckets waiting to be hooked. There are plenty of clams in the salt water of the Indian River, but they’re just not good for eating. It’s too hot for most clams. Cold water clams are best, I think, for eating. Much of the seafood around here is brought in from New England on a daily basis, so there’s no shortage of New England clams.
The secret to making good clam chowder is simple: use good quality clams. Fresh clams are the best. If using fresh clams, make sure you clean the clam shells before cooking to remove the sand and grit. I can’t tell you how many clams dishes I’ve had while dining out that had enough sand leftover to kill the dish. Nothing’s worse than a mouthful of sand and food.
There are a number of ways to remove the sand. I usually put the clams in the sink or large pot and cover them with a layer of coarse salt and cold water. Let them sit for about 30 minutes and rinse away any sand. If you’re still unsure, use a small veggie brush and scrub the shells.
Frozen clams are a good substitute, but they’re hard to find around here. When fresh clams aren’t available (or too expensive), I use canned clams. The quality of brands can be vastly different. I tried several before I found one or two that I like. Canned clams aren’t as clammy as fresh clams, but they’ll do.
Fresh, frozen, or canned, make sure you save the clam juice; you’ll need it in the recipe.
New England clam chowder is best served immediately. I usually serve a sliced French baguette for dipping, but my husband and kids like to add oyster crackers.