New England Meets Alaska Smoked Chowder
New England chowder purists may poo-poo our substitution of smoked geoduck for the traditional little bland clams. Let them. It's okay. We're more concerned with transforming the way you think about big, tasty, Smoked Geoduck, the potent clam that can!
Before we innocently, unintentionally aggravate those purists, let's look at their idea of New England chowder purity. One must know the rules in order to break them deliciously, don't you agree?
What is New England Chowder?
New England chowder is a lot like a thick, creamy potato soup with clams. In fact, that's exactly what it is.
Some folk'll refer to New England clam chowder as Boston chowder, and you probably won’t want to debate those folk. It is considerably more thick than other regional fish and seafood chowders, and also uniquely dairy-laden. There are never tomatoes in New England chowder, and there never will be.
The classic components are clams, salt pork, onion, butter and milk. The first iterations of New England chowder were thickened with cracker meal made from hardtack biscuits. Someone got all fancy-pants at one point and started using flour instead, but we'll admit to thickening ours with a fine powder of Sailor Boy Pilot Bread on occasion. It's pretty terrific, but we prescribe flour in the recipe below for your convenience. Light bread crumbs or matzo meal work too.
WARNING: If the New England chowder isn't served with oyster crackers, then someone might become upset with you. Let each guest decide how they'll take their crackers before you crumble them on top yourself. The final consistency should be left to the discretion of the guest, because that's hospitality!
Clam Chowder is Pretty Old School
The precise history of New England chowder is as opaque as the dish itself, but chowderhead scholars suggest that New England chowder was first given to the region by Nova Scotian, British or French settlers. It was common as muck by the 1700s, and here we are today, reinventing this clammy old chestnut of an American comfort food for you, in a recipe entitled:
New England Chowder with Smoked Geoduck
This New England chowder with our Smoked Geoduck will fast become a favorite in your recipe rotation. Geoduck chowder isn’t unheard of in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, but it’s definitely a rarity. Thanks to local clam diver Curtis Brown and the smokehouse team here at Wildfish (the only producer of smoked Alaska geoduck in the world!) you no longer have to settle for basic New England chowder at home. The crisp, clean woodsmoke of the geoduck and can broth will transport you to a misty, Northwestern mental safespace.
Geoduck, you should know, has an ideal texture for clam chowder, primarily because it is a clam. We used two cans to make certain that each bite yields geoduck.
2 cans Wildfish Smoked Geoduck, chopped into ¼” cubes, juice reserved
1½ lbs Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into ¾” cubes
1 medium yellow onion, diced finely
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 small leek, cleaned up nice and thinly sliced
4 oz salt pork or pork belly, cut into ¼” cubes (substitute: bacon or an extra tbsp butter)
3 tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup all purpose flour
1 quart whole milk
2 bay leaves
1 sprig of thyme
Fresh cracked black pepper
Barnacle Bullwhip Kelp Hot Sauce for garnish
Oyster crackers for topping, or saltines if you’re amenable to those
In a large saucepan, simmer the potatoes in salted water until not quite fully cooked. They will continue to cook when added to the chowder, and you don’t want them to disintegrate. Drain and rinse the potatoes in cold water, then set them aside in a bowl.
In the same saucepan, render the salt pork gradually over a medium flame until it begins to brown and form a glaze in the bottom. Deglaze the pan with the butter and a splash of milk, scrapin’ and incorporatin’. Add the onion, celery and leek, and saute until softened without browning. Add the flour and incorporate evenly with the vegetables. Stir continuously for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the reserved clam juice gradually. When it blooms into a paste, blend in the milk.
Add the geoduck, potatoes, bay leaves, thyme sprig, and a bit of cracked black pepper. Bring to a gentle simmer and keep it there until it reaches the desired consistency. We like our chowder thick, but add a little milk if you like it thinner. Or, cream. If you’re feeling sinful.
Ladle that geoduck chowder into bowls, and serve it with oyster crackers, black pepper and hot sauce. In one of the many brainstorming sessions we convened for this piece, we discussed the notion of serving the chowder batch in a single, party-sized bread bowl. Discussion was as far as we took it, but wouldn’t that just be grand? We had hundreds of other chowder ideas too. We’ll roll a few of them out to you in the future, so stay tuned on our Facebook page.