Our Killer Californian Clam Chowder Cheat Sheet

As most of my recipes (and my wife, who likes Jamie-Oliveresque, precise instructions, keeps reminding me), the following is not strictly speaking a proper recipe, more like a cheat sheet that mentions main ingredients that have worked well in the past, both mandatory and optional, and basic cooking procedure.

I’ve been to San Francisco in March 2003 on a business trip. This is when I had my first clam chowder experience at Fisherman’s Wharf (I hadn’t even had anything similar before, like a thick, white, creamy, European-style clam or mussel soup or something) and I immediately fell in love and have been experimenting with various recipes ever since (not claiming to be an expert, though, far from it, and definitely not a purist, so: purists, please do not be offended by the liberties I’m taking).

 

Ingredients (4 persons)

100g to 300g jar of high-quality, ideally whole/un-chopped, large canned clams (weight of clams will be roughly half of the overall contents); difficult to judge the quality if already chopped; the more clams the better, but don’t spend silly money on them; here in London we usually find that you can get the best value, best quality ones at owner-operated small delicatessen

100g pancetta cubes

100g ham in one piece

2 medium-sized potatoes, 1 of the 2 potatoes can be a sweet potato (for stronger, sweeter taste)

1 large or 2 small celery sticks

1 medium-sized or 1.5 small white onions

half a red onion

100g cheddar (ideally in one piece, then freshly grated)

200ml heavy cream

300ml milk

200ml to 400ml chicken broth (ideally 1.5 unsalted or low-salt Knorr broth cubes or equivalent amount in powder)

a few whole sprigs of fresh (ideally curly-leaf) parsley and thyme

3 to 5 whole dried bay leaves

black pepper (plenty), oregano, and a little bit of white pepper and nutmeg (all four ideally freshly ground, but fine to use readily ground ones from supermarket; if no fresh parsley and thyme available, then replace with ground parsley and thyme, but taste will be much less intense)

three table spoons of all-purpose white flour

tabasco sauce (a few drops)

lemon juice (half a table spoon)

Salt should only be added at the very end of the cooking process, and only if needed.

Usually served with high-quality bread according to taste. The traditional bread is light sourdough, but no reason not to have it with any other tasty bread.

The measures above can be varied easily according to taste and availability, as with many soups, because you can simply adjust the water and/or stock content (and the measures of other ingredients and the amount of bread you serve) to make up for lightness or heaviness of the soup. Be confident. You know best what you like and how you like it. Go for it.

My wife and I try to do low-carb and we like hearty meals, so we use bigger measures on most of the main ingredients like clams, pancetta and ham, but add only one potato, no flour and relatively little water. We also nearly always skip the bread (even though we do love bread).

Tools

Food processor

Prepare the ingredients (approx. 20 minutes)

– Wash and clean all vegetables and herbs before use, except where peeled

– Empty the brine or water of the jar of canned clams into a bowl, but keep the clams inside the jar; then drop the clams from the jar onto a chopping board and chop the clams very coarsely so that most will be cut into two or three bits (but do not dispose of any smaller bits, use everything), then put the bits of clams into a separate bowl, not the one with the brine or water; add 50ml to 150ml of water and put clams into fridge (but leave water/brine outside)

– Chop the white onion(s); put into separate tray with space left

– Chop the half red onion extremely finely (or alternatively use the food processor); put into separate tray and then put into fridge

– Chop the celery stick(s) into little slices; put into separate tray

– Separate some leaves from the parsley sprigs and chop them; put into separate tray and then put into fridge

– If using whole piece of pancetta, then cut into small cubes; put into same tray as the white onions

– Cut the ham into cubes; put into very large separate tray

– Peel the potatoes and the sweet potatoes and cut them into cubes; put them in the same tray as the ham cubes

– If not using bottled variety, juice enough lemon for half a table spoon of lemon juice, make sure no bits or seeds in the juice

– Make sure food processor is ready to use

 

Cooking Process (approx. 45 to 60 minutes)

– Heat a little bit of oil in a large deep frying pan, then pan-fry the bacon and the white onions until the onions are glassy and starting to get a tiny hint of yellow/brown colour

– Add celery slices, fry for another two to three minutes

– Add chicken stock, clam brine/water, and enough water (250ml to roughly 600ml at the beginning; depending mainly on number and size of potatoes)

– Add ground dried leaves herbs, a tiny amount of white pepper, a good amount of black pepper, a smaller amount of nutmeg, a few drops of tabasco sauce, and half a tablespoon of lemon juice

– Bring to boil, then add potatoes, sweet potatoes (if any), and ham, simmer for at least 25 minutes, adding more water if/when needed in order to ensure that all ingredients are covered in water

– Unless you have a very large food processor, the following step will have to be done in several turns which will take several minutes, using bowls to store the processed food before it goes back into the large frying pan; switch the stove off during this process; depending on pan type, it can make sense to quickly clean the pan, dry it, then add and heat up oil (or alternatively some water), before adding the processed contents again

– Put all the contents from the frying pan (except the herbs) through the food processor until it has a thick liquid quality without any larger bits (a few exceptions are ok), then put them back into the frying pan

– Add the milk slowly and gradually (otherwise it will clot), then add the cream, clams, and the bay leaves, and sprigs of herbs (bay leaves and sprigs of herbs must be removed before serving)

– Bring briefly back to boiling point, then simmer for at least another 10 minutes; check consistency and add one to three table spoons of flour as thickening agent, if needed; do not do this directly, but first get 150ml of water to boiling in a kettle, then take about a minute or so to stir the flour into that water, make sure completely and evenly dissolved, before adding to your chowder; use more boiling water if needed.

– Stir very well while continuing to let it simmer; check the taste, add more herbs, spices, pepper, Tabasco sauce, and possibly salt, if needed

– Once the surface of the chowder is more even- and creamy-looking, serve into deep bowls; add small amounts of chopped red onion, parsley and grated cheddar on top of each bowl (grate while serving, if not yet grated)

– Enjoy and let us know how it worked for you!

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