Clam chowder. If there is one seafood soup that just about everyone in the US has at some point eaten, it would most likely be that of clam chowder.
Like everything, there is the good and the bad. I have fortunately, and unfortunately eaten my fair share of both. When it is good, we are talking rich, definable pieces of food in a creamy broth, and a real seafood presence. When it is bad, we are talking a pureed mess that closer resembles the result of a Friday night of heavy drinking.. (you get where I am going..)
I had never thought of making my own clam chowder till a couple of years ago. To be honest, it just has never been quite my thing, until a trip to Long Beach WA with Danika. Now, the town of Long Beach is really worth missing to be honest, a windy beach – too windy to enjoy, a lot of tourist attractions, and no good food to be found (my opinion then anyhow..).
However, a couple of miles south of Long Beach was a smaller little town, much more laid back, that seemed to be built around a fishing community. We turned up there on a lovely sunny weekend day, and there was a small market happening out on the jetties around fishing boats. The place was pretty busy with families, some decent looking seafood was for sale right from the dock. In short, my kind of place.
There was a small little restaurant there that had just got taken over by a young couple. The bloke had recently got out of culinary school, and they had bought this place which had been the local restaurant for much longer than I am sure I could imagine. Initial outset was a bit grim to be honest – Grandma furnishings, but with a new ridiculously trendy name (I forget what it was, but it made us giggle – would have been fine in a cosmopolitan city, but here in this quant fishing village?). So, we sit down and the waitress brings out a menu. I had a question about one of the dishes, and within seconds the young chef was at our table, sitting down, chatting away. Things were looking up. He had just got some salmon fresh off the boat, literally that hour, and was cutting it down. He was serving this with a peach coulis, from wonderful local peaches. Sounding good.
It was stellar. The guy really knew how to cook fish. He suggested we also try the clam chowder, and why the heck not, if that salmon was anything to go by.
This was, absolutely, positively the best clam chowder I had ever eaten in my life. He had it seriously right (for my taste anyhow). The broth was light, really light. I remember it a touch creamy, Danika say’s it was sans-cream – and who am I to argue with my wife. Tiny baby fingerlings were in the broth, along with whole clams, and a little onion, and chopped bacon. No finely diced mush. No canned clams. Just awesome local seafood, and a real respect for ingredients.
Fast forward a couple of years..
I have written down in my little black book of food ideas to do a take on clam chowder, and it has sat there for quite some time, without any further notes next to it.
Well, just last week I started to jot down some ideas for it. I want clams in their shells. I want recognizable pieces of potato. I want decent sized pieces of pork.
Then it hit me. Pork belly! Heck, most clam chowders have bacon in it, so this isn’t exactly a stretch, and could add a new dimension to the dish. How about decent sized cubes of slow braised then roasted pork belly? Ohhhh, this is sounding like my kind of soup.
Then the spuds. I do love my fingerling potatoes (or “new” potatoes as we call them back in Blighty). So why not use some fingerlings in it. Whilst we are at it, lets change the texture a bit, and add something crunchy… hmmm…
fried thin slices of fingerling! Why yes, this is sounding even more like me now.
The broth is simple – the wine reduction that the clams are cooked in, with a little clam juice if needed. Into this gets put some of the clams chopped up, and some of the pork belly chopped up.
And finally the cream component. I am a bit of a hound for Crème fraiche to be honest – I love the texture, and the faint soured taste – which is far less in-your-face than regular sour cream. Lets use a little sour cream to create the cream edge to the dish. Whilst we are at it, why not just serve this on the side, and let whoever is eating it decide whether to add it or not.
Is that a brain dump? I hope not..
So, anyhow, the Wrightfood clam chowder is born. A little unconventional, a little fishy, and a little fatty… The dish, not me. Well, perhaps a little bit me…
If braising a lump of pork belly sounds like a chore for a chowder, I would love to convince you otherwise. If I really cannot, feel free to slow cook some bacon, and use it in the place of the pork belly. If you do.. let me know how it tastes will ya.
Clam and Pork Belly soup – Clam Chowder Recipe
3/4lb pork belly, skin removed (or use bacon – details on that later)
40 manilla clams
2 glasses of dry white wine
2 small shallots, finely diced
1 clove of garlic, finely diced
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
3 bay leaves
5 sprigs parsley (for the pork)
Small handful of chopped fresh flat leave parsley (for the chowder)
10 small fingerling potatoes – thinly sliced
Small handful of dill leaves, coarsely chopped
Small handful of chives, finely sliced across stem
Clam juice (about ½ cup)
Start by braising the pork – this is best done a day ahead of time. Add a little oil to a hot pan, and sear the pork belly on its fat side, until just brown and some fat is running. Do this in a deep saucepan. Take out the pork, and turn up the heat. Pour in 1 glass of the the white wine, let bubble for a couple of minutes. Add in the pork belly, carrot, onion, parsley (for the pork) and bay leaves. The liquid level should come up to about half way up pork belly. If you need to add more liquid, bung in some water. Cover the pan, and put in a warm oven (325F) for 2 hours.
Remove pork from braising liquid, all to cool, then refrigerate the pork.
When you are ready for the chowder..
Heat oven to 425F. Put the pork belly in a small roasting dish, and roast for about 30 minutes, until nicely browned and heated through. Keep warm.
Clean the clams.
In a large pan that has a lid, slowly cook the shallot and garlic in a little olive oil.
In a small frying pan add enough olive oil to cover the bottom by about ¼” Heat until the oil is hot (it will run much more freely if you tip the pan around). Add the potato slices in batches, so as not to crowd the pan. Cook each batch until the potato slices are nicely browned – about 4 minutes each I guess. Drain the cooked ones on paper towel.
When the onion/garlic mixture looks cooked, turn up the heat under it. Add in the last glass of white wine. Let this bubble and reduce by half. Toss in the clams, and shake the pan to help em settle. Put a lid on and cook for 3 minutes, or until the clams are just open.
Working fast, now slice half of the pork belly, and dice the other half. Remove half of the clams from their shells and chop those. Remove any remaining clams from their cooking liquid. Add in the clam juice, chopped pork belly and chopped clams to the liquid, and get it just boiling over a high temperature. Pull from the heat.
Add the chives, dill and chopped parsley to the clam liquid.
Put half of the pork belly strips and half of the clams that are still in their shells into a big bowl. Top with half of the potatoes. Pour over half of the hot broth. Repeat for the second bowl. Serve with a spoonful of crème fraiche – add it into the bowl and mix if you want the chowder creamy.