Our extended family recently congregated in Boston for a long weekend holiday. We dined at the Isabelle Stewart Gardener Museum, toured Boston in a duck boat and cheered on the Red Sox at a night game. As members of our tribe reside in Singapore, New York and St. Louis, a trip back East is never complete without a taste of their favorite Gulf of Maine seafood.
One of my favorite spots for good fresh fish is the restaurant chain Legal Seafoods. The Legal Seafood Market was founded in Cambridge, Mass., in 1952 by George Berkowitz. In 1968, the family expanded and added a restaurant next to the fish market. A pioneer in food safety and respected worldwide for its sustainable practices, the company now has restaurants in more than 30 locations. And it has really good food.
To start, Joanna ordered up a bowl of clam chowder. On the first bite, she declared it quite delicious, and insisted that I give it a try. Nice and thick, creamy with lots of clam flavor, perfectly textured potatoes and pretty pink flecks of clams, it was a great clam chowder, a true old-time version.
Recipes for a traditional Maine clam chowder feature hen or surf clams, not the tradition steamer clams. At low-drain tides, we are fortunate to be able to dig these large bivalves here in Crockett Cove.
Here at Rabbit Hill, 2 pounds of hen clams with the bellies removed and put through a meat grinder with a coarse blade will yield about 20 ounces of chopped clams.
The process of preparing “chowdah clams,” shucking, cleaning, removing the bellies and grinding the meat is quite laborious, but yields a very fresh and tasty chowder.
In the recipe for Maine Clam Chowder, canned, chopped clams are equally delicious.
To make perfect chowder, you need to follow a few simple steps, as texture, taste and mouth feel are equally important. Finely chop the onions, and evenly cube the potatoes. A good chowder is never thickened with flour or cornstarch, only with potatoes. My preference is for the Yukon Gold variety or a good mashing potato.
Sautéing the onions in a combination of butter and bacon fat lends richness to the broth. Cooking the cubed potatoes in clam juice and whole bay leaves locks in a nice, deep clam flavor.
Instead of canned milk, I favor a mixture of rich milk (raw milk with cream on the top) and cream, added to the soup with the clams. To finish, I puree a few cups in the blender to achieve the desired consistency and mouth feel, and lightly season the chowder with sea salt and fresh pepper.
The flavor of Maine Clam Chowder only improves with age. For optimum enjoyment, serve this chowder in heated soup cups or bowls with lots of chowder crackers.