Clams or fish? Tomatoes or cream? It's eater's choice

September 22, 1991|By Steven Raichlen

Clam chowder is probably the nation's most famous chowder. It is traditionally made with quahogs -- large hard-shell clams -- but one could easily use littlenecks or cherrystones. The chowder below has two twists: bacon is added in addition to salt pork and fried julienned leeks are used as a garnish. The recipe comes from Ris Lacoste, chef at 21 Federal St. in Washington.

White clam chowder with leeks

Serves 12.

24 quahogs (3 cups clam meat and liquor)

3 cups dry white wine

approximately 2 cups fish stock, clam broth, or water

6 leeks, trimmed and washed

2 onions

4 stalks celery

3 ounces salt pork

6 strips of bacon

1/3 cup flour

3 large potatoes, peeled and diced

bouquet garni of bay leaf, thyme, and parsley

salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper

2 cups peanut oil for frying the leeks

1 cup heavy cream

4 tablespoons finely chopped chives or parsley

3 tablespoons butter

Scrub the quahogs and place them in a large, covered pot with the wine. Steam them for 10-15 minutes or until the shells just open. Shuck the quahogs and grind, using a meat grinder or food processor. Strain the cooking liquid through a cheesecloth -- you should have 2 quarts. If you don't, add a fish stock, clam broth, or water to make up the difference. Reserve the ground clams and the liquid separately.

Finely chop three of the leeks. Cut the remaining leeks into a fine julienne and reserve them for the garnish. Finely chop the onion and celery. Finely dice the salt pork and bacon. Fry the salt pork and bacon in a large pot over medium heat to render the fat. Remove the cracklings with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Discard all but 6 tablespoons fat.

Add the chopped leek, onion, and celery and gently cook for 3-4 minutes, or until soft. Stir in the flour and cook over a low heat for 3-4 minutes. Whisk in the quahog liquid and bouquet garni and gradually bring the chowder to a boil. Add the potatoes and simmer for 8-10 minutes, or until tender. Stir in the cream, quahogs, cracklings, and salt, pepper and cayenne to taste.

Just before serving, heat the oil to 375 degrees. Fry the julienned leeks for 1 minute or until crisp, drain on paper towels, and sprinkle with salt. To serve, ladle the chower in bowls. Place a pat of butter in each bowl and garnish with fried leeks.

Clams or fish? Tomatoes or cream? Nothing brings out controversy like chowder. Rhode Islanders like red chowders -- flavored with tomatoes -- a practice that smacks of heresy to a neighboring Bay Stater. Here's how Boston chef William Poirier makes red chowder, and it's good enough to convert the most diehard white chowder fanatic.

Rhode Island red chowder

Serves eight.

16 large quahogs (2 cups chopped meat)

2 cups dry white wine

2-3 cups bottled clam broth or fish stock

1/4 pound salt pork

1 large onion

2 stalks celery

2 cloves garlic

1 bunch flat-leaf parsley

2 bay leaves

2 sprigs thyme

4 ripe tomatoes

1 tablespoon tomato puree

2 large potatoes

salt, fresh black pepper, and cayenne pepper

Scrub the quahogs and place them in a large, covered pot with the wine. Steam them for 10-15 minutes or until the shells just open. Shuck the quahogs and grind, using a meat grinder or food processor. Strain the cooking liquid through a cheesecloth -- you should have 6 cups. If you don't, add a fish stock, clam broth, or water to make up the difference.

Finely dice the salt pork. Slowly fry the salt pork in a large pot over low heat to render the fat. Transfer the cracklings with a slotted spoon to a paper towel to drain. Meanwhile, finely chop the onion and celery. Mince the garlic. Tie half the parsley and the other herbs into a bouquet garni. Finely chop the remaining parsley. Peel, seed, and coarsely chop the tomatoes. Peel and dice the potatoes into a bowl of cold water to prevent them from browning.

Saute the onions, celery, garlic, and bouquet garni in the rendered fat over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, or until soft but not brown. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, increase heat to high, and cook for 1 minute. Add the 6 cups clam liquid and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes, reduce the heat, and simmer the chowder for 8-10 minutes, or until tender.

Just before serving, stir in the quahog meat and salt and pepper to taste. Garnish the chowder with chopped parsley and the salt pork cracklings and serve at once.

The next recipe was loosely inspired by a dish at the restaurant Al Forno in Providence, R.I. Curry powder, cilantro, and scotch bonnet chilies lend the chowder a West Indian accent. (Scotch bonnets are the world's hottest chilies -- look for them at Caribbean markets. Or substitute a milder chili, such as serrano or jalapeno.) Be sure to use unsweetened coconut milk, which can be found canned at Indian, Southeast Asian, and Hispanic markets.

Shrimp and scallop chowder with coconut milk

Serves eight to 10.

2 pounds shrimp

1 pound sea scallops

1/2 scotch bonnet or other hot chili, seeded

4 shallots

2 cloves garlic

3 scallions

1 inch fresh ginger

1 red bell pepper

1 green bell pepper

3 tablespoons butter

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