Thank Heavens the holidays are over! We had so many boxes and bags of cookies/candy that my teeth hurt just looking at them! As soon as the New Year began, I did a “pantry purge” and got rid of all that stuff. Not that I ate it, mind you, because I don’t have a sweet tooth, but (much to the dismay of my ass) we also were gifted with lots and lots of cheese. Good cheese. I think I grew a tail and whiskers this holiday season because I was in cheesy paradise.
So it’s time for yet another round of Shrink-My-Ass-Month! If you haven’t been around for previous SMAM’s, I’ll give you the scoop. Basically I’ll be sharing recipes that are on the lighter side of the spectrum, because my ass needs it and I’ll bet yours does, too. I’ll still be doing other writing in this space, but when I post a recipe this month, it won’t be Backside Suicide.
I thought I’d kick things off with New England clam chowder.
I know, I know–New England clam chowder is an ass-buster. Just look at Ina Garten’s recipe for chowder. Yeah, that is almost two sticks of butter you’re looking at. I don’t know about you, but I’m not wasting that kind of butt space on soup.
But New England clam chowder happens to be one of my husband’s favorite comfort foods, and it’s been colder than a witch’s tit in these parts. Comfort food was a-calling.
So I looked at dozens of recipes for clam chowder (4 cups of heavy cream, anyone?) and tried to think of ways I could tinker with the basic elements of clam chowder without completely ruining it. I just wanted a lighter outcome.
I decided to rely on a technique I learned this past year from my best buddy, Jacques Pepin. In Christmas 2011, Santa gifted me with his cookbook Essential Pepin. Now Jacques is getting up there in age, so he’s recently taken a lot more interest in cooking fresh, healthy fare, and that’s a good thing. Because I learned some nifty tricks from that rascal.
One of his (and now my) favorite tricks is to thicken a soup by pureeing cooked potatoes/veg in the broth to give it heft, rather than making it creamy via roux or cream. It works, too! The soup tastes creamy but…no cream! I did cheat a little and add a bit of half-and-half at the end, because I wanted that silky mouth-feel that only dairy can provide, but that’s just my taste.
A few notes before I begin:
~If you are a New England clam chowder purist, skip this post and just vow to eat the real thing once or twice a year.
~If you like lots of chunks of potato in your chowder, just increase the amount of potatoes you use in this recipe.
~People are very particular about how thick they like their chowda. Personally, I don’t like ones that are so thick that it’s like eating wallpaper paste. But if you do like a super-thick chowder, I’ve got you covered. I’ll tell you how to get there. Follow the *s. And the TL’s. TL=thick lover.
~People are also a little persnickety about the size of the clams in their stew. Personally, I don’t like chopped clams in my chowder, so I use whole. However, if you like chopped clams, chop away! It’s just a texture issue, really.
~Chowder tastes good, looks ugly. Kind of like pot roast or smothered pork chops or stroganoff. Chowder doesn’t photograph sexy, which is why I spared you and put only one picture up.
After that lecture, do you even want to read this recipe?
I hope so, because it’s pretty darn good, and close enough to the real deal that my husband and Awesome stepkid R. didn’t know it was health-conscious. I’m calling it a win. This chowder re-boot won’t expand your booty, and it’s perfect for the chilly days ahead.
Less Lethal New England Clam Chowder
1 slice center-cut bacon
olive oil, if needed
1 medium onion, chopped
3 fat cloves of garlic, minced
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
2 jars clam juice (found in the canned tuna aisle of the store)
1-2* cups low-sodium chicken stock (for TL, start with 1 cup stock and add if necessary during pureeing process)
1 lb yukon gold potatoes, diced and, if desired, peeled (add more if you like more potato in your chowder
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
20 ounces canned clams, drained or 1 1/2 pounds fresh or frozen clams, chopped if desired
1/2 cup dry white wine, like Pinot Grigio* (TL, hold off on this until you do a texture test; you may not need it)
1/2 cup to 2/3 cup half-and-half
dash of Old Bay seasoning (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped fresh parsley, for garnish and hot sauce, for serving on the side
In a large soup pot, cook the slice of bacon on medium heat until crisp. Remove from pan, reserving drippings. Add the vegetables and garlic, adding a bit more olive oil if necessary to get a good saute on them. Cook until tender and onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add clam juice, chicken stock, diced potatoes, thyme, bay leaves, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low/simmer.
After 15 minutes, check the potatoes. They should be tender but not falling apart. With a slotted spoon, remove 1/3 of the potatoes from the broth and set aside. Plop the lid back on the pot and cook for 10 more minutes, or until potatoes are very soft. Remove thyme and bay leaves.
~Judgment call alert! If you like chunks of veggies in your chowder, remove them with a slotted spoon when you remove the first batch of potatoes. If, as in our household, you only want chunks of potato and clam in your chowder, follow recipe instructions.
Puree the potato/veg/broth mixture, either via immersion blender or (in batches) a regular blender. Return to pot.
Check for texture.* If mixture seems too thick, add Pinot Grigio and additional chicken stock. If it seems to your liking, omit the Pinot Grigio.
Check for seasoning. Add Old Bay, if using, and salt and pepper to taste (go light on the salt though, because clams are salty)
Bring mixture back to a bubble and add clams and reserved potatoes. Simmer until heated through, 5-10 minutes.
~Judgment call #2: the amount of half-and-half you add at this point depends on your preferece eg: chowder consistency. Do add some, though, because it gives the chowder a silkiness that you won’t have if you don’t use it. 1/2 to 2/3 cup half-and-half for a big pot o’ chowder is quite a judicious amount.
Add half and half and warm through, about a minute.
Check again for seasoning, top with parsley, and ladle into warm bowls.
Enjoy! Happy 2013! Wishing you happiness, a smaller ass, and zero assholery this year!