Clam Chowder

 

 

This past Sunday I went to my dad’s house on Lake Washington to celebrate his birthday. I will save the details of this tako yaki showdown for another time, but it prompted a memory of the clam chowder we made on Christmas – worth mentioning right now.

Rewind 3-ish months to when my dad, brother and I slathered bagels with cream cheese and layered each side with lox, savoring Christmas morning.

While my brother and I unpacked the too-skinny stockings my grandmother knit when we were born, my dad roared with laughter from his lawn chair (yes, he has a beautiful house but doesn’t have any furniture in his living room).

My brother pulled out a shirt that said “I love spam.” My dad threw his head back, bringing his fist to his mouth and teetering the feeble chair on its hind legs. (I remember this so clearly, and then I realized I even have a picture of this exactly moment!)

I ripped open into the tissue paper wrapping to find nail clippers with a magnifying glass attached from his trip to Japan. He laughed so hard his face was purple. I didn’t know presents could be so amusing, but he was getting a kick out of each one. Next came the surfboard beer opener, the crab cracking device and a re-gifted box of fleur de sel. Though, as random as this seems, I do love any form of fancy salt.

For Christmas dinner, we made a big pot of clam chowder. This nostalgically fatty meal, in one form or another, has always been major in my family. I grew up eating it: to-go from QFC before toddler ballet class, at seafood restaurants my dad took us to when we visited him in Seattle, and mostly, from a Progresso can.

My dad and I tried and failed to make it when I was 7.

Because of that experience, I hadn’t tried to make it again, until last Christmas. The three of us poured over ingredients in the kitchen – Duncan vigorously chopping for mise en place, my dad washing the clams and steaming them in white wine and herbs.

My dad took a break to hacky sack, which he claims is the way he is going to get in shape in 2016.

The three of us sat down to the dinner table with a loaf of homemade bread and bowls of the most perfect clam chowder. We’re all snobs, and there is nothing we would have changed about it. True to his form, Thomas Keller wrote a high maintenance recipe. I followed most of it and ditched a few things. Here is the simpler version.

Serves 6 (Makes 3 quarts)//Ad Hoc at Home

  • 8 ounces bacon (preferably slab bacon)
  • Canola oil
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped leeks (white and light green parts only)
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped onions
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 2 thyme sprigs + 1 bay leaf + 1 smashed garlic clove
  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 4 pound littleneck clams or Manilla clams
  • 1 1/4 cups kosher salt for the clam washing
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons (2 1/4 ounces) unsalted butter + 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup chopped shallots
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • Kosher salt and finely ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped chives for garnish

*Note: All of the clam washing seems tedious, but there is truly nothing worse in a clam chowder than grit.

Cut the bacon into small 1/2 inch thick pieces. Heat some canola oil in an 8-to-10 quart stockpot over medium heat. Add the bacon and reduce the heat to low, letting the fat render for 20-25 minutes. The bacon should color but not become crispy. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon from the pan.

Add the leeks, onions and garlic to the pan and stir. Sprinkle with salt and cover with a lid, cooking slowly, until the vegetables are tender.

Put the potatoes in a large saucepan with 1 smashed garlic clove, 2 teaspoons of salt, 1 bay leaf and 2 sprigs of thyme. Cover with cold water and bring to a simmer, cooking until just tender.

Drain in a colander and run cold water over them to stop the cooking process. Discard the garlic and herbs.

Clean the clams with a scrubby brush, removing any sand. Place in a large bowl with 8 cups of water and the salt, stirring to dissolve. Make sure there is enough water to cover the clams, and let them soak for about 5 minutes, drawing out any leftover sand from them. Take the clams out of the water and rise one more time in a colander.

When the vegetables are tender, increase the heat to medium and add the 4 1/2 tablespoons butter. Once melted, add the flour to coat the vegetables and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes. Whisk in the milk and cream, season to taste with salt and pepper and bring to a low simmer.

Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and thyme sprigs, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring for about 1 minute until tender. Add the wine, bring to a boil and cook for about 2 minutes to evaporate some of the alcohol. Add the clams, cover the pan, and cook for about 4 minutes, removing the clams as they open. Strain all of the clam liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl.

Shell the clams and set aside.

Gently stir the clam liquid to taste into the soup pot (avoiding adding any visible sand if possible). Season the chowder with salt and pepper to taste. Add the potatoes and about two thirds of the clams.

Garnish the soup with remaining clams, bacon and chopped chives.

 

 

 

 

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Split Pea Soup

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The longer you go without blogging is similar to going without exercise or making pie crust. It seems more daunting and doesn’t come as naturally. You have a squishy butt and empty countertop. I’ve experienced all three of these recently. While trying to make my coworker a pie, I rolled out my dough onto the counter right above the dishwasher that was running. The steam melted the butter chunks so quickly, I had to peel it from the hot counter. The crust grew tough. Whatever happened to baking pie for a living? Oh, right.

I got a 9-to-5 job managing restaurants for a food delivery startup in downtown Seattle.

I used to have my hands in dough daily and drift into my own thoughts, usually crafting a blog post or article to pitch. I would stroll the short walk home and have half the day to sit at my computer to transcribe the thoughts I had while sifting flour and pulling pies from the oven.

Now, I sit at my computer every day and instead, I stare at spreadsheets comparing enchiladas to burritos to quesadillas – not that I am complaining.

In an attempt to get back to last December – when I was writing an article about holiday cheese balls – I made split pea soup.

Thomas Keller, who’s book this is from, seems to overcomplicate many of the steps. What should be a really simple pureed soup is made fussy. There were several moments where I grew frustrated and went rogue. My boss used to work for him at The French Laundry, and today she said her few grey hairs are from him. Surely, if you follow his recipe exactly, you will be salt-and-pepper-chic. I preferred not to prematurely grey and instead found a much simpler, likely as good, version.

So here I go, blog post #5 billion, which really feels like #1 again.

Serves 6-8//A much simpler version than Ad Hoc at Home’s

  • 3 tablespoons canola or olive oil
  • 2 cups thinly sliced carrots
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped leeks
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped onions
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 smoked ham hock (about 1 pound)
  • 3 quarts chicken stock
  • 1 pound (about 2 cups) split peas, rinsed and picked for stones
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups peas (2 pounds in the pod) blanched (optional)
  • 1/2 cup creme fraîche
  • Mint leaves

Heat the oil in an 8 to 10 quart stockpot over medium heat. Add the carrots, leeks and onions with a generous pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook until the vegetables are tender.

Add the ham hock and chicken stock, bring to a simmer, and continue to simmer for 45 minutes. Remove about half of the cooked stock vegetables and toss.

Add the rinsed split peas and bring to a simmer once again. Cook for an hour, or until the split peas are completely soft.

Remove the soup from the heat. Take out the ham hock and set aside. Season the soup with 1 tablespoon of vinegar and salt to taste. Use an immersion blender (or transfer in batches to a blender) to puree completely.  Taste for seasoning, adding salt, pepper or vinegar if necessary.

Keep on low while you pull the meat off the ham hock, tossing the fat and skin. Cut the ham into small pieces and stir into the soup (or reserve some to put on top).

Serve the soup with creme fraîche, chopped mint and extra ham hock. If it’s spring time and you can find fresh peas, sprinkle those on top as well.