Dish of the Week: Manhattan Clam Chowder

Tomatoes make this Manhattan-style version a bit different from its cousins to the north.
Tomatoes make this Manhattan-style version a bit different from its cousins to the north.
Photo by Mr.TinDC

From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. See the complete list of recipes at the end of this post.

This week, we're diving into Manhattan Clam Chowder.

Not to be confused with New England or Boston clam chowder, the Manhattan take on the traditional clam soup is made is (gasp) tomatoes -- a big no-no to its neighbors in the North. Maine event went so far as to introduce a bill making it illegal to add tomatoes to pots of clam chowder in 1939, according to The New York Times piece "Fare of the Country; New England Clams: A Fruitful Harvest."

Thankfully, not everyone subscribes to that train of thought. Tomato-based chowders were born from Portuguese fishing communities in Rhode Island in the mid-1800s, as tomato-based stews were already popular in their native cuisine. According to Alton Brown's "Good Eats", the story goes that New Englanders dubbed this tomato version of their beloved chowder "Manhattan-style" because calling someone a New Yorker was considered an insult.

Insult or not, tomatoes bring a slight tartness and a bit of sweetness to the rich, briny stew.

This classic recipe uses homemade clam broth to make the chowder rich with the essence of the sea. Slab bacon, green peppers, and Yukon golds add plenty of heartiness.

Manhattan Clam Chowder serves 8 to 10

Ingredients 24 medium-size quahog clams (top neck or cherrystone), rinsed 1 tbsp unsalted butter 1/4 lb slab bacon or salt pork, diced 1 large Spanish onion, diced 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 large ribs celery, diced 1 medium green bell pepper, diced 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste 3 large Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed 3 sprigs fresh thyme 1 bay leaf 1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed by hand or roughly diced Freshly ground black pepper to taste 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Place clams in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven and add about 4 cups water. Cover and cook over medium-high heat until clams have opened, about 10 to 15 minutes.** Strain clam broth through a sieve lined with cheesecloth or doubled-up paper towels and set aside. Remove clams from shells and set those aside as well. **Clams that fail to open after 15 minutes should be discarded.

Rinse the pot and return it to the stove over medium-low heat. Add butter to melt. Stir in bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat has rendered and the pork has started to brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove pork from fat and set aside.

Add in the onions, garlic, celery, green peppers and carrots and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft but not brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in potatoes and continue cooking until they have just started to soften, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add 4 cups of clam broth, reserving the rest for another use. Add the sprigs of thyme and the bay leaf.

Partly cover the pot and simmer gently until potatoes are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Use the back of a wooden spoon to smash a few potatoes against the side of the pot to release their starch and help thicken the broth.

Meanwhile, roughly chop the clams.

When the potatoes are tender, stir in the tomatoes to heat through. Stir in chopped clams and reserved bacon. Taste and season with freshly ground black pepper. Bring the chowder to a gentle simmer and remove from heat.

Remove the thyme and bay leaf, then allow the chowder to sit for a while to allow the flavors to meld. Reheat before serving hot topped with chopped fresh parsley. Of course, oyster crackers or a hunk of hot fresh bread couldn't hurt either.

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