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Creamy clam chowder

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Posted: Monday, October 7, 2013 3:25 pm

When the days turn shorter and the air gets cooler, soups become a desirable part of our menu. Years ago, I got a basic recipe for Clam Chowder from a friend, and set out to improve upon it.

I started adding a few herbs here and there, some wine, and even more exotic ingredients like leeks and lemon grass. I've tried using fresh versus canned clams. Fresh clams taste great, but getting all the grit out of them was something I've never achieved to my liking.

So, I just use canned clams. They taste just fine. I've also abandoned many of the exotic ingredients I've tried. Sometimes "simple" is simply better. This recipe, executed properly, will be one of the best bowls of Clam Chowder you've ever eaten.

And, if you don't like clams, use the "creamy base" part of the recipe to create a soup with the star ingredients of your liking. Just remember to add some flavored stock. I've tried it before with leftovers from a seafood dinner, and it was really good. And, don't forget to accompany your soup with a warm crusty loaf of your favorite bread.

Clam chowder

8 cans minced clams, drained and juice reserved (you should get 4 cups of clam juice)

6 strips thick cut bacon, diced.

1 1/2 cup diced yellow onion

2 cups cubed potatoes (about 1/4 to 1/2-inch cubes)

1 cup diced celery, plus chopped celery leaves

1 medium shallot, diced fine

1 carrot, diced fine

1 tablespoon better than bullion chicken (you can add chicken bullion cubes instead, 4 small)

1/2 cup white wine

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire

1/4 cup fresh Italian flat leaf parsley

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, or 1/4 teaspoon dried

1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

Salt and pepper

Lemon wedges and Tobasco for serving

Creamy base

1 cube butter

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 quart half & half (do not use milk)

Cook diced bacon in a soup pot that holds at least eight quarts. (I have the large Le Creuset enamel covered cast iron. It's perfect for soups and braises. You could also use a slow cooker, or a crock pot that has a removable inside that's safe for stove top cooking.) When bacon is crisp, remove and drain the fat. Put bacon back in the pot, add clam juice, and all the ingredients except creamy base ingredients and clams. You'll want to add the clams in the last minute to keep them from getting chewy. All the vegetables should be covered by the liquid. If they're not, add some bottled clam juice or chicken stock. Turn heat to medium-low, and put a lid on the pot. You'll only want a light simmer.

In a separate pan, melt butter over medium-low heat. When butter is melted, add flour and whisk to create a roux. Keep the heat low, you don't want to brown your roux. When the flour and butter have cooked together for a few minutes, add the quart of half and half. Grab a whisk and start stirring, slowly and steadily. Now, you're going to have to whisk these ingredients for a while, stirring constantly, until it thickens. You'll know it's right when the whisk leaves tracks through the base. If it seems to be taking forever, you can increase the heat just a little, but never stop stirring until you get the proper result. When base gets to proper thickness, add it to the soup, and stir everything together. Place the lid back on the pot.

Keep the heat on low, and cook for one hour to allow all the flavors to marry. If you cook it too hot, you'll ruin the soup, so be gentle. Then add the clams, and salt and pepper to taste. It usually doesn't need much salt because the clam juice and bullion are both salty. It's ready to serve. Add a squeeze of lemon, and a dash of Tabasco if you'd like. They really add a good kick. 

Chuck Nelson was born in Lodi and attended school in Galt and Stockton. He has been a hair sylist in Lodi for 33 years, currently at Oasis Salon. He is married to Glenyss and has two daughters, Trisha and Tracy and one grandson, Dylan. He enjoys reading, doing mind puzzles, playing golf and cooking for friends and family.

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