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Boston Clam Chowder: Red vs. the White : Partisan Feelings Run Deep, but Here's a Purist Version

June 05, 1986|TOM SIETSEMA | The Washington Post

The Texas-size rivalries that surround a bowl of chili have an Eastern counterpart. Clam-chowder fans divide themselves into two staunch camps: those who prefer their soup creamy white, and those who would indulge in nothing that wasn't tinged tomato-red.

What has been touted as a traditionally American dish, right up there with apple pie, actually has its roots in France, where coastal fishermen were known to prepare batches of the hearty concoction in a caldron, or chaudiere, from which the term chowder originates.

Moreover, according to author Richard J. Hooker in "Food and Drink in America" (Bobbs-Merrill: 1981), the earliest American adaptation included neither milk nor tomatoes, but simply "fish, onions, biscuits and water."

Fortunately for the judges of Boston's Harborfest chowder competition, which coincides with a week of celebration including the Fourth of July, the soups served along the waterfront are more complex.

Last year an estimated 6,000 visitors put their palates to the test by sampling the soups of 10 local eateries to determine which made the city's best chowder.

After a full day of tasting--and for the second year in a row--the fledgling Turner Fisheries Restaurant, named after the respected Boston wholesaler, was awarded first prize. On July 5 this year the eatery hopes to capture the coveted title a third straight time.

You won't have to wait until summer or travel any farther than your local market to prepare the restaurant's purist version of clam chowder, certain to please that cream-loving contingent.

The key to this recipe is in the fresh clams, so be sure to select a market with a good fish counter, avoiding clams that are cracked or even slightly opened.

The award-winning recipe uses white pepper and bay leaf, which are listed as optional ingredients in this adaptation. TURNER FISHERIES RESTAURANT'S CLAM CHOWDER

16 cherrystone clams

1/2 cup water

Bottled clam juice

1/2 cup clarified butter

1 clove garlic, minced

1 medium onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1/4 teaspoon thyme leaves, crushed

1/2 teaspoon white pepper, optional

1 bay leaf, optional

1/2 cup flour

1 large potato, diced

2 cups whipping cream


Wash clams thoroughly. Place in heavy saucepan. Add water, cover tightly and steam until clams open, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove clams from shells, chop coarsely and set aside. Reserve broth, adding bottled clam juice to make 4 cups.

In same pan, heat butter over low heat and add garlic. Saute 2 to 3 minutes. Add onion, celery, thyme, white pepper and bay leaf. Saute until onion is translucent. Add flour to make roux, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, being careful not to brown or burn mixture.

Slowly add reserved clam juice to roux, stirring to avoid lumps, and simmer 10 minutes. Add potato and cook until tender. Stir well to avoid clumping. Add cream and clams, return to quick boil and season to taste with pepper. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

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