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Before the temperatures rise to ungodly levels, we're sharing the secrets to a cold-weather favorite, New England Clam Chowder.
Also referred to as Boston clam chowder, the rich and filling white chowder has been a staple in New England fishing towns since the middle of the 18th century, when fish stews from coastal England and France were modified with journey-friendly ingredients like potatoes, onions, salt-pork, ship's biscuits, and local clams and oysters.
Made with milk or heavy cream, New England clam chowder is much thicker than other versions -- like the Southern Rhode Island chowder, made with clear broth, or Manhattan clam chowder, made with the addition of (gasp) tomatoes.
Apparently, including tomatoes is a serious no-no. According to the New York Times piece "Fare of the Country; New England Clams: A Fruitful Harvest," a Maine legislator went so far as to introduce a bill in 1939 making it illegal to add tomatoes to pots of clam chowder.
Tomatoes may be shunned, but oyster crackers sure aren't. New Englanders crush the crisp hexagonal crackers into their soup to thicken it, or serve them as garnish.
However you eat it, everyone can agree a bowl of warm and comforting clam chowder takes the edge off a cool day.
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This recipe from Boston's oldest restaurant, Union Oyster House, yields a creamy, chunky chowder that is old-school classic at its best.
Union Oyster House Clam Chowder
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*Salt pork resembles uncut slab bacon, but it is saltier and not bacon-cured or smoked. Slab bacon can be used for a similar effect.
In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, bring the potatoes and clam juice to a boil, cooking until the potatoes are just done. Add the clams, along with any extra juice, and cook until just tender. Be careful not to overcook, as this can result in rubbery clams. Set aside.
Remove the skin from the salt pork. Dice and add to sauté pan set over medium-high heat. Cook until the fat is rendered, then add in the onions and celery, cooking until translucent. Add the butter and stir until melted. Stir in flour, adding a little more if the mixture is too loose. Cook until mixture is slightly colored.
Bring the clams, juice and potatoes back to boil. Add the flour and salt pork mixture, stirring often as the sauce thickens. Bring to a rolling boil, then add pre-heated half-and-half until desired consistency is reached. Season with salt, pepper, Tobasco, and Worcestershire sauce to taste.
We like to serve ours in a lightly toasted bread bowl topped with oyster crackers for good measure.
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