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February 11, 2008

Clam Chowder

Clam Chowder

Clam Chowder is one of my all time favorites. I've loved Clam Chowder since I was a child and a few years ago I tried my hand at making my own. My first attempts involved me adapting a recipe from Cooking Light that used canned clams and clam juice. From there it evolved even more.

While making chowder I had never actually made it with fresh clams. I had always wanted to try, but for some reason the thought was a bit daunting to me. The other day when Alexis and I were at the market they had some very nice, very fresh clams and I decided it was time to try my hand at chowder completely from scratch. My version is still on the light side as far as chowders go and is chunky with vegetables and clams. It's a lovely, creamy, chunky version that's also not as heavy as other chowders sometimes are.

Chowders made with canned clams and juice are great, but nothing compares to one made with fresh clams. Clams in and of themselves aren't overly expensive seafood either, so you won't break the bank. I readily find them here priced about $1 a pound, but that might not be the case in other areas of the country. If you're interested in making some chowder from scratch start watching your seafood counter and see how clams run in your area.

Clam Chowder: Clams Ready to be Cooked

What You'll Need:
3-6 pounds of clams (Note: Use more if you like a lot of clams, less if you don't. Remember when you are buying your clams that the majority of the weight is in the shell, so while 3-6 pounds might seem like a lot for a small batch of chowder, in reality you aren't really putting that many clams into your pot.)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
4 ribs of celery, chopped
6 potatoes, 3 peeled and chopped, 3 peeled and left whole
A pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2-4 cups of clam juice reserved from cooking the clams
3-4 bay leaves
1 cup of fat free half and half

When you buy your clams you want to use them immediately. The fresher the better. This is a recipe you'll want to purchase your clams and make the same day. Place clams in a large glass bowl and cover with water and ice. Let them sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour. This helps rinse them and let the sand settle out of them. You will see air bubbles rising to the top of the water. Don't worry...This is a good sign!

In a large stock pot cover rinsed clams with water, bring to a boil and cook until clams open. Usually about 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and take clams out of the clam water, reserving clam juice for the soup. (Note: A rule of thumb to always remember with clams...Clams that are opened before they are cooked are bad so toss them!...Clams that don't open when they are cooked are bad too so toss any of those that might arise! In this batch I lost 4 clams. 3 before cooking and 1 after.)

Once the clams are cool enough to touch remove them from their shells, remove their beards (Note: You'll be able to tell which part is the clam and which part is the beard...The beard is a flowery little projections that looks like, well a beard! Alexis had a ball doing this step and was disappointed when there were no more clams to separate.) and place the clams in a large glass bowl. Cover the clams after they are separated with some cooled clam juice and set aside. I like to do this step while the soup is cooking.

Clam Chowder: Cooked Clams

In a large stock pot sauté onion, celery and cubed potatoes, with a pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper, until onion and celery are slightly tender, but not mushy and still have a bit of a bite to them. Cover the veggies with clam juice and add the three whole potatoes and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender.

Once the whole potatoes are tender remove them from the pot and mash them with the half and half. Remove the bay leaves and discard. Then return this mashed mixture to the pot to help thicken the soup. Drain the clams and then stir them into the soup. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes to heat clams through. Serve immediately. (Note: Don't cook for too long after you add the clams. They get tough if cooked too long.)

Notes: Fat free half and half is great in that it gives you that creamy aspect of heavy cream without the extra fat. You could use corn starch or flour to help thicken the soup, but the potatoes give the soup a very creamy thickness that is a bit healthier than the other alternatives. Some people like to add thyme to their chowder, and while I'm a fan of thyme, I don't care for it in chowder. Ditto for nutmeg, which is also sometimes added. If I add anything to chowder other than your basic sea salt and black pepper I go for Old Bay Seasoning to give it a kick.

Dianne's Dishes February Contest: Kids in the Kitchen!

P.S. Don't forget Dianne's Dishes February Contest: Kids In The Kitchen for your chance to win one Pampered Chef "My Safe Cutter" along with one Pampered Chef "Kid's Apron and Chef's Hat Set"! Just leave a comment on this thread with a valid e-mail address (and don't worry, no one will see your e-mail address but me!) before 5:00 PM EST, Thursday, February 14, 2008. I'll print out the participants and my little sous chef will pull a name out of the hat. I'll e-mail that person for their address and announce the winner on Friday, February 15, 2008! Anyone anywhere on our little planet earth is eligible to enter so what are you waiting for?

Good luck! Oh and tell your friends! ;o)

P.S.S. Oh and go check out the winner of Culinate's Death by Chocolate contest!

Posted by Dianne at February 11, 2008 9:16 AM

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This looks like a wonderful clam chowder!! I have never made it with fresh clams, but mostly because I can never find them. I'm hoping to find them one day so that I can try it out!

Posted by: Deborah at February 11, 2008 4:35 PM

If you acn find them then do try it! It was delicious! :o)

Posted by: Dianne at February 11, 2008 4:51 PM

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