At the clam festival last month we got to sample a variety of different clam chowders. The New England clam chowder is thick, rich, with a heavy dose of cream. The Manhattan clam chowder is tomato-based, with a thinner broth, and no cream. There are also several hybrids, using some variation of one or the other, or using both tomato and cream. My preference is New England clam chowder, since it seems the flavors blend better together. Once I started researching recipes for New England clam chowder, they varied from a quarter to the majority of the liquid in the chowder consisting of heavy cream. Using that much cream, even if I was a milk fiend, seemed a bit much. It also happens that around these parts we're lactose intolerant. My husband really wanted to try making some, but the thought of that much cream almost completely turned him off from it. So I started thinking about how I could recreate the same richness and creaminess of a New England clam chowder and avoid using dairy.
As I began looking through different recipes and learning more about it, I found a curious website. It is a collection, amassed by UMass, of New England clam chowder recipes as they evolved through the years, from the more modern recipes to more interesting ones going back to the seventeen hundreds.
If you peruse the recipes you can actually observe the evolution of the clam chowder, from a simple clam broth with some milk splashed in at the end cooked over hot coals, to what it has become today. Some of the more common threads involve bacon, clams and dairy. The earlier recipes used lard for the fat to cook the vegetables, with some of the later recipes using bacon fat for the same purpose.
This recipe has no pork grease or dairy. But it tastes just as good as the real thing. Maybe even better. For the thick base, I decided to use a vichyssoise-style soup (a potato and leek puree soup). For this version of the clam chowder, I cooked the potatoes and leeks in the clam juice and then pureed them, giving the chowder a thick, creamy, filling consistency, without using the dairy. The end result is a thick, creamy broth, with almost no fat - since the clams are naturally fat-free. The chowder is nonetheless extremely filling, and you will not miss the dairy.
This chowder needs no additional thickener as the starch from the potatoes is a natural thickener. Although the recipe has no dairy, if you prefer it a little creamier, you can easily stir in 1/2 cup of milk at the end. The thick texture of the chowder makes this a good meal year round, not just when clams are in season. Serve it with some oyster crackers and hot sauce. Enjoy!
You will need:
2 tbsp canola oil
2 leek whites, cleaned
1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
3-4 medium white potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups clam juice, divided
1 cup water
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/8 tsp Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chopped canned clams, strained of juice (about 3 of 6.5 oz cans)
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
Hot sauce, such as Tabasco (optional)
1. Dice one of the leeks. Heat canola oil in a stock pot. Add the diced leek and the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the diced potatoes, 1 cup clam juice and 1 cup water. Stir in the wine. Cover, and bring just to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.
2. Strain the solids from the pot, reserving the liquids. Process the solids in a food processor, in batches if necessary, into a puree. Return the pureed vegetables, together with the reserved liquids into the pot. Add the second cup of clam juice. Stir to combine.
3. Bring the pot back to a simmer. Add the celery and the bay leaf. Chop the other leek, add the leek to the pot. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and let simmer for about 10 minutes, until celery is tender. Stir in the chopped clams, bring back to a simmer and cook 4-5 minutes more. Stir in the parsley. Serve, with hot sauce and oyster crackers (optional).