Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Clam Chowder

My niece and I went quahogging last weekend. A quahog is a hard clam which grows well in estuaries from New Jersey to Cape Cod, where the water is relatively warm and salt water mingles with fresh. The word "quahog," pronounced "ko-hog," comes from the Narragansett Indians' word for the clams, "poquauhock." The Indians used the clam shells to carve "wampum," purple and white beads used for trade.

The smallest legally harvested quahog is 1 inch thick at its thickest. It is called a "little neck." The largest quahogs are called "chowders." The medium sized are called "cherrystones." It takes 3 or 4 years for a quahog to get big enough to eat. If you want to find out how quahogs are harvested, scroll down to the next posting to learn about it.

After letting my bucket of quahogs clean themselves out for about a day with multiple changes of fresh sea water, I scrubbed off the mud and threads of little plants which cling to the shell using a special scrub brush I use only for that purpose. I bought two of these scrub brushes in hopes of roping someone into helping me. It takes some elbow grease to scrub quahogs, and it is messy work, so I sit outside.

Once my quahogs are clean, I put them in the pot with about an inch of water, cover, and steam them until the shells open. Discard any clams which don't open.

I save the water I used to steam the clams, and also the bit of water which is left inside the shells. This is called the "clam liquor." It is very flavorful and very salty and I use it to season my chowder.

Then I chop up the clams very finely. Clams can be chewy. They are best in tiny pieces. I also try not to look too closely at the clams and all their various parts.

Here are some of the other delicious ingredients which I put in the chowder: 2 onions, 3 or 4 unpeeled new potatoes, 2 cloves of garlic, butter, two chopped pieces of freshly fried bacon, and cream. I am making chowder with clear broth because my husband is lactose intolerant. My young son and I add some heavy cream to our bowls.

Chop the onions, mince the garlic, and gently cook them in a generous amount of butter.

Roughly chop the potatoes and cook them in water. Don't let them get too soft or they will fall apart in the chowder. Save the potato water.

Now put about 4 cups of water (or light cream or milk if you prefer) in the big soup pot, add the potatoes and potato water, the onions and garlic, some pepper, some Northern Bay leaves, (which I collected locally,) and clam liquor to taste. Go easy on the clam liquor. Last time I made my chowder too salty! Most people like their clam chowder thickened, so you can whisk some flour in a little bowl with some of the broth, and then add it to the chowder pot. Let it all warm up together. Now add the clam bits and get the soup hot.

Serve it with oyster crackers. Delicious.


Sharon Lovejoy said...


We are DEFINITELY on the same wave length. The wonderful bounty of the sea.

I could taste this.


Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

Beth said...

I'm having the leftovers tonight! Mmmmm! love, Beth

Ariad said...

ounds delish! What an interesting word "quahogging".

Phyllis said...

OH, yum! If only I could get ahold of some of those clams! All seafood reminds me of my Dad, who was a waterman on the Chesapeake. I miss him so.

S said...

Thank you Beth. After your last post i went googling and emailing back and forth with my sister who went to the States last year - so she knew what they were and had even eaten some. it brings back memories of my pre teen years when i went early morning prawning with my godfather along the coast and then coming back and eating them for breakfast :)

marcia said...

Delicious!!! How fun to go quahogging and then cook with them!

happy day!

Cal said...

We haven't had chowder in a long time because my husband is also lactose intolerant... but I am really glad about the tip of using broth instead and add cream to the individual bowls! Thanks!

Linda said...

Oh, this looks so divine! Thank you so much for sharing:)

Ravenhill said...

Mmmm, how absolutely deliciuos this looks! I used to love clam chowder when I lived in Maine as a child. I haven't had it for years and years. Yours certainly brings back fond memories. Mom made it too and it was most tasty. Your recipe looks marvelous.
love, Emily

Nadja said...

Oh my...one of the things I like least about TN is being land-locked, and the lack of really fresh seafood! I love clams and oysters, raw on the halfshell with a squeeze of lemon!