Colonial Kitchen // Clam Chowder + Bread Bowls
Well, I can officially say that I have made a most delicious soup. I really couldn't stop eating it. We all couldn't. It was a meal where we didn't really speak except to pause and say to each other, "This is soooo good." You know, that kind of a meal. The more I cook, the better I understand how the food feels, how it works and changes. It's really quite miraculous! I don't want to stick any ideas of permanence in anyone's mind, but we've been thinking long and hard about opening a restaurant lately... more on that later, but for now, it's a dream. I think I've mentioned before that that's what we originally thought of doing before making handmade items! Either way, making my first clam chowder was just another little nudge from my own elbow to keep cooking, even if my thighs are starting to hate me for it.
I've never had real New England clam chowder. The last time I was on the East Coast I was fourteen, and I really liked shutter shades and low rise jeans. Ugh. Because of this, I feel like someone who actually knows what real clam chowder tastes like and/or how to make it might think that mine isn't right. Even if it isn't, it turned out really delicious! Such a sweet, tangy flavor. Mmmm!!
Clam chowder has been around for centuries, though it unsurprisingly became popular as a regular meal in the 18th century - my favorite time period and the inspiration for this series. It was often thought of as "Poor Man's Food" and was a stew of vegetables and fish made in a cauldron. Chowders differed from other fish soups that were made by early American settlers because they used salt pork and ship biscuits, or really hard biscuits, in them. Chowders still vary by region, though most use oyster crackers instead of the tack-like biscuit. The first known publication of a chowder recipe appeared in the Boston Evening Post in 1751.
"First lay some Onions to keep the Pork from burning
Because in Chouder there can be not turning;
Then lay some Pork in slices very thin,
Thus you in Chouder always must begin.
Next lay some Fish cut crossways very nice
Then season well with Pepper, Salt, and Spice;
Parsley, Sweet-Marjoram, Savory, and Thyme,
Then Biscuit next which must be soak’d some Time.
Thus your Foundation laid, you will be able
To raise a Chouder, high as Tower of Babel;
For by repeating o’er the Same again,
You may make a Chouder for a thousand men.
Last a Bottle of Claret, with Water eno; to smother ’em,
You’ll have a Mess which some call Omnium gather ’em.”
There are two main types of East Coast chowders, New England style and Manhattan style. The New England variation is made with a milk broth, thick, creamy and white in color. The Manhattan style is made from a tomato and spice broth, and is much thinner and red in color. There are several other variations all over the US, but the most well known are these two. All chowders offer some sort of fish, clams being the most popular, and vegetables such as onions, potatoes, celery, and spices. Let's make some chowder! But first... bread bowls!
- 1 1/4 cup warm water
- 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 cups bread flour
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 egg
- In an electric mixer, dissolve the sugar in the water. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and let sit 15 minutes to activate. Add the salt and stir.
- Slowly incorporate the bread flour. Mix on low until all the flour has been added and then increase the speed so that it can really knead the dough. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil.
- Let it knead in the mixer for about 3-5 minutes until smooth and elastic. I find that this dough kneads much better if I knead it by hand. You really want to spend some time making sure it's smooth! That's the key to Italian bread.
- Place the dough in a greased bowl and let sit in a warm place, free of drafts, for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
- Punch down the dough and separate into 3 bowls of equal size. Pull the sides of the dough down and tuck underneath the bowls so that they become smooth on top. Place on a baking sheet covered in greased tin foil, cover with a damp cloth, and let rise for another 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400.
- Slice a 1/4" slit into the top of each bread bowl. Brush with and egg + water wash. Bake for 15 minutes. Brush with the egg wash again and bake for another 10 minutes.
- Cut a circle in the top of each bowl and remove the center. Scoop out any extra bread if necessary with your fingers.
- 5 pieces of bacon
- 3 stalks of celery, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 3 small potatoes, diced
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- 1/4 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 cups broth/stock (my vegetable stock recipe)
- 8 oz bottle clam juice
- 1/3 cup flour
- 2 cups whole milk OR half and half (variation: 1 cup milk, 1 cup heavy cream)
- 2 cans baby clams
- In a skillet, cook the bacon. Set aside. Pour the leftover juices into a large soup pan.
- Sautee the celery and carrots in the bacon grease until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and sautee another 2-3 minutes. Toss in the white pepper, thyme, and 1/4 tsp salt. Add the potatoes.
- Pour in the vegetable stock (I used my own recipe - really fabulous! made for a unique flavor) and clam juice. Stir in well and bring to a boil. Let simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
- In a glass measuring cup, combine 1 cup of milk and the flour. Add to the soup, stirring in well and bringing to boil. Let boil for 2-3 minutes, stirring, or until the soup has thickened.
- Add the clams. Add the other 1 cup of milk. Bring to a boil. Season white the other 1/4 tsp of salt to taste. Serve when thickened to your liking, about 2-3 more minutes. You don't want to overcook the clams!
- Serve warm with bacon crumbled on top.
Really, really glad I tried my hand at creating this recipe! This will definitely be a go-to family favorite for all of us. I can see so many wonderful variations of this soup. I'm really interested in trying it with a wine broth!!