Sunday, February 19, 2017

Black Pearl: New England Clam Chowder

Having grown up outside of New England, I've never been a big clam chowder fan.  Especially since the versions you get in the rest of the US are pretty poor imitations.  But when I found myself in Rhode Island a year or so ago, I got the opportunity to try The Black Pearl, and boy, have my thoughts on clam chowder changed.

As explained by Chef Knerr in the old RI morning show footage I found on YouTube, ocean clams are tough little buggers, and they just aren't appealing to chew, but they have fan-friggin-tastic flavor.  Sea clams are light and tender, but don't pack a flavor punch.  What is a chef to do?  Well, ground up the tough ones and throw in the tender ones in pieces, thus achieving clam chowder nirvana and possibly world peace.

Note: This version of the soup may actually have more clams in it than the original restaurant version.  I fail to see that this is a bad thing.  Also, there is no bacon in this soup.  Shocking, I know.  This may in fact be NE chowder sacrilege.  However, as much as I love bacon (and boy, do I ever love bacon), I feel that it has a tendency to trample everything in its path, especially lovely delicate things.  Like sea clams.  So I think that while this soup would probably still be delicious with bacon (what isn't?), you really get to enjoy the loveliness of the clams in their purest form by leaving it out.

New England Clam Chowder
Adapted from Chef Daniel Knerr at Black Pearl restaurant, Newport, RI

3 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1½ teaspoons sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 (51-ounce) can chopped ocean clams (quahogs), drained, liquid reserved
1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
2½ cups potatoes, peeled and diced small
2 cups half-and-half
1 (51-ounce) can chopped sea clams (surf clams), drained
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce (optional)
Dry vermouth (optional)

Place the drained ocean clams in a food processor with a couple tablespoons of the reserved liquid and process until ground.  Set aside.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven, then add the onions and saute for a few minutes until translucent.  Add the thyme, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.  Sprinkle the flour and cornstarch over the onions, then mix together and cook for a minute to two until the flour starts to smell nutty, but doesn't change color.  Add the ground ocean clams, remaining reserved liquid, bottle of clam juice, and the cubed potatoes.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat back to medium and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or just until potatoes soften.  Remove from the heat and chill until thickened, preferably overnight.

Place Dutch oven over medium high heat and stir in the half-and-half.  When the soup starts to loosen up and warm through, add the chopped sea clams, butter, and dill.  Stir to combine and heat through.  Add Tabasco and vermouth, if desired.  Serve hot.

Makes 12 servings

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