Who wants chowdah?! Beth’s Maine clam chowder

Who wants chowdah?!

When I think of going back to Maine, the first thing that comes to mind every time is sitting around the table in Beth’s awesome house built in 1818 just cooking, eating, laughing and being very Maine. The first time I visited, she made a huge pot of clam chowder and I eyeballed the offending soup suspiciously, having always detested clam chowder from cans.

“This is different,” she assured me.

Preaching to the converted, my friend. I’m obsessed with Beth’s chowder. It’s not exactly the thick, white, creamy stuff you buy in cans though. It’s a little thinner and has more of a brothy texture and appearance but still has the yummy clam taste. That being said, the picture I’m using in this blog is not exactly how Beth’s chowder looks but it’s close enough. I asked her to share the recipe with me for a blog but I forgot that she doesn’t really cook by measurements and such. She wings it. I’ve never seen her look at a recipe, in fact.

My adopted home in Maine where the chowdah lives!

Here are Beth’s instructions for her epic Maine clam chowder.

OK, this is going to be hard. [Our friends] asked me how to make the corn chowder I made for them when they were up a couple of times and the answer is … I don’t know exactly … but here’s the basic gist of it:

Cut potatoes in to chunks – you can decide whether to peel them or not – I kind of like the rustic quality of the peels on. Set those aside, but cover them so they don’t discolor. Saute butter and salt pork (if you can’t get it, use bacon or pancetta) in a heavy dutch oven or stock pot and add in onions and celery, cooking those until they’re just tender. Then put the potatoes in there and immediately add as much chicken or vegetable stock (or fish stock, although this is rare and would make the chowder “fishier”) as needed to just cover the potatoes so that they cook in this mixture. You can also add the juice from your fresh or canned clams, but don’t put the clams in at this stage. When the potatoes are tender, add milk or cream or half and half (choose depending on how rich you want this to be) and fresh chopped clams (in Maine these can be purchased in the supermarket) or canned clams are ok too. You want to add the clams toward the end because the longer they cook, the more possibility you get for them to become rubbery. At this point add salt and pepper to taste. Some people also like carrots in the chowder – you can add that with the potatoes if desired. Some people also like other herbs or seasonings in it – experiment, but don’t make them too strong as the flavor of the clams can be easily overpowered.

I know I have given no quantities. I never make soup with a recipe so I just don’t know. I think the seat of the pants method is pretty foolproof if you just follow your gut (ha ha – gut – get it?) instinct.

In order to help you less experienced cooks, I tried to find a more specific recipe that looks sort of like Beth’s version. I recommend using the salt pork and fresh clams from her version because they really make the soup, in my opinion. Substitute the bacon with salt pork because they’re flavoring bacon with funky things these days that change the way the chowder should taste. She doesn’t thicken it up as much with the cream as you would find in canned soups or more traditional New England clam chowder either. Personally, I find the creaminess detracts from the taste of the other ingredients. Her chowder looks like it has chicken broth that has been thickened a bit. Mainers just don’t make it that thick.

Maine Clam Chowder

    1 (8 ounce) jar clam juice
    3 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
    8 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
    1 large onion, chopped
    2 stalks celery, diced
    2 quarts shucked clams, with liquid
    2 cups half-and-half cream

In a small saucepan, heat clam juice and peeled potatoes. Bring water to a boil and let simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Place bacon in a large stock pot. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Stir in onions and celery. Cook until vegetables are soft. Add potatoes, clam juice and clams to the stock pot. Heat until simmering. In a separate pot, gently warm (do not boil) half and half. Pour warm half and half into the stock pot and heat just until warmed through. Do not boil the chowder or the cream will separate. Serve hot.

Now pour yourself a glass of chardonnay or make a bloody Mary and enjoy your cold Maine night by the fire.

One response to “Who wants chowdah?! Beth’s Maine clam chowder”

  1. ParrisHouse1818 says:

    >I should have made the wine a mandatory part of the recipe. Thanks for thinking of that! 🙂

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