It’s time for another item from the DC Omnivore 100 list of the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.
As I’m a Northeasterner, when I hear “clam chowder” my mind immediately goes to the creamy, rich, hearty goodness that is New England Clam Chowder. This is the typical winter fare that keeps us Yankees warm on the ski slopes and sledding down snowy banks for hours and hours. The chowder sticks to your ribs, keeps your core warm and makes you smile on -15 degree (including wind chill) days.
I’m also from Manhattan, so I’m well aware of New England Clam Chowder’s alterego, the red Manhattan Clam Chowder. As a kid, I was not a fan of this soup. It was the imposter of clam chowder. Definitely not the real deal. “Ewww…who eats red clam chowder?!!” However, as an adult, my palette has shifted and I really like the acidity and sharpness of this tomato-based version. And now that I don’t have the metabolism of a hypeactive 8 year old, it’s also a more health conscious choice. For those DC-VA-MD folk, Manhattan Clam Chowder is farely similar to Maryland Clam Chowder, only the NYC version lacks corn and chicken (presumably these additions come from the Eastern shore of MD).
But let’s get back to the creamy goodness of NECC (New England Clam Chowder). According to WeLoveClams (no relation to WeLoveDC), the creamy consistency of NECC varies along the Northeast coastline getting less dense and stewy the further north you go. To me, this doesn’t make logical sense, because as New York City is the home to the brothy Manhattan clam chowder, one would think that the consistency of the NECC would become more milky the closer you travelled to NY. But no, the opposite is true and I have no idea why.
Regardless, the base of NECC starts with bacon, onions and clam broth/juice. If you’re up for the challenge, you can boil your own clams, to make the clam broth and have fresh clams in your soup, or if you’re time strapped you can use canned clams and the juice that comes in the can. Add your cubed potatoes and other spices like thyme, dill weed, bayleaf, etc. to the bacon-onion broth, bring to a boil and then simmer until potato cubes are tender. Depending on your recipe and your desired consistency, you’ll then add either milk or heavy cream or a combination of both. As for the clams, it’s best to add them only a few minutes before you’re ready to serve otherwise they can get rubbery from too much cooking.
Now WeLoveDC’s Omnivore 100 calls for the clam chowder to be served in a sourdough breadbowl, which is a tasty option should you 1) like sourdough bread, 2) enjoy eating out of a breadbowl and 3) not mind eating the chowder soaked bread with your fingers and making a slight mess. Personally, I prefer having my chowder in a ceramic bowl with a sourdough roll on the side. This way I can control the amount of soak time my bread spends in the soup, and I can sop up the morsels of soup that remain after my spoon has done its job.
However, you enjoy your clam chowder be it in a cream or tomato based broth, or with corn and chicken, or in a breadbowl, it’s a must-have for the cold, wintry season.