From Dish Rachelle:
I’m pretty sure that in my lifetime I’ve done some serious damage to the clam population of the Northeast. Some of my favorite dishes – and my family’s favorite dishes – center around this one simple ingredient. I grew up eating fried clam strips with tartar sauce with my Mom at Howard Johnson’s at brunch on Sundays and at fish fry places on the boardwalk at the Jersey Shore. I always ordered the chalky New England clam chowder at Friendly’s when I was little (and we know what a big part Friendly’s played in my childhood). I’ve known my father to cook three dishes, and three dishes only: 1) “Cheese eggs” (aka scrambled eggs with American cheese) 2) Linguine with white clam sauce and 3) Baked clams (see the bottom of this post for a neat trick he taught me). I love Zuppa di Clams and even raw ones on the half shell with cocktail sauce. This is really just starting to sound like a survey of New Jersey restaurant menus.
I’ve made Manhattan clam chowder before (“red”) but never New England. I was very pleasantly surprised. Sorry, clams – this might become another go-to.
Ingredients (makes 2 entrée-sized portions or 4 appetizers)
18 raw whole clams, shells on
2 strips bacon, chopped
½ large yellow onion, chopped
splash of dry white wine
1 large baking potato, diced small
clam stock (see below)
1/3 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon cornstarch (optional)
Start by steaming your clams open. In a large, deep saucepan, place rinsed clams (shells on) in about a half-inch of water. Cover and steam over medium-high heat, giving the pan a shake every few minutes. Cook until the water looks foamy and the shells are all wide open, about 10 minutes.
With tongs, remove the clams to a bowl. Do not drain or discard the clammy water at the bottom of your saucepan, because this will become the base of your stock! Remove the clam meat from the shells and reserve for later. Place the empty shells back in the saucepan and add about a pint and a half of water, covering and bringing it up to a simmer. Let this cook while you prepare your other ingredients.
Cook the chopped bacon in a soup/stew pot over medium heat. When it looks about done, add the onions and a little bit of olive oil so they don’t stick, and soften. Deglaze with the white wine and add the potatoes.
Return to your clam stock and taste it. It will likely be very salty. Remove shells* and pour the liquid through a cheese cloth to remove any sand or grit that has come from them, and then pour the strained liquid straight into your soup pot. Add some fresh water if necessary to cover ingredients and dilute the salt. Bring to a simmer and cook, mostly covered, about 15 minutes.
Check your potatoes and make sure they’re done. If so, roughly chop the clam meat and add to the pot along with any liquids that emerged. Add the corn and stir. Cook, mostly covered, over low heat for another 5 minutes.
Add heavy cream and if you prefer a thicker soup, the cornstarch (you can dissolve it in a little bit of warm water first to make a paste so that it’s not gritty in your mouth). Plate and season with ground pepper.
*You can toss them, or rinse and save them for another use. My Dad used to make baked clams using canned clams – easy, but without the benefit of shells for easy baking and nice presentation. No problem: when he ordered clams casino at a restaurant, he used to ask the waiter if he could keep the empty shells so that the next time he felt to urge to make baked clams he’d have them on hand.