Clam chowder originated on the north east coast of North America in the 18th century, specifically around the region of New England with its cold Atlantic waters and 9,250 kilometres of shoreline perfect for gathering clams. It’s likely that early French settlers in Canada, with their cast-iron cooking cauldrons called ‘chaudières’, introduced the earliest forms of this dish as well as providing the name ‘chowder’.
Serves 6 as an entrée
1.5kg surf clams
40g speck, finely diced
2 golden shallots, diced
2 tablespoons plain flour
2 cups milk, plus extra if needed
400g floury potatoes, peeled and finely diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Salt flakes and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
Place clams in a single layer in a wide-based frying pan, cover and place over a high heat. Remove the individual shells from the pan as each one opens, cover and continue cooking, checking and removing open shells every few seconds, so as not to overcook them. If some don’t open, use a blunt knife (such as a butter knife) to pry them open, away from the pan, and, if they smell good, add them to the others; if they’re bad, they’ll have a distinctly ‘off’ aroma. Set aside until cool enough to handle, reserving the cooking liquid.
Remove meat from shells, adding any liquid to the reserved cooking liquid and discarding shells. Roughly chop half the meat, leaving the rest whole. Strain liquid through doubled muslin or chux, measure 1 cup and set aside (discarding the rest).
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add speck and cook over a high heat for a few minutes until it starts to colour, add shallots and cook for a few minutes more, until shallots are soft and translucent. Add flour and cook for a couple of minutes.
Remove from heat and gradually stir in milk and reserved cooking liquid. Stir in potatoes, return to heat and bring to the boil, stirring constantly until thickened. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, until potato is very tender and starting to break down. Stir in chopped and whole clams and dill. Taste, add salt and pepper, remembering that the speck and clams are salty, and stir until clams are heated through, adding a little more milk or water if you prefer a thinner consistency.
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