Tuesday, August 02, 2005


When I was a kid I spent a good deal of time at the ocean. Whole summers, holidays, vacations, in-between-times, all were spent in the coastal area of Virginia, with a week or two at Nags Head thrown in every summer. Mom and I had some sort of rule about seafood, wherein we pretty much only ate it when on the coast. This may have had something to do with money, but I think that since we were used to eating fresh seafood, and since we couldn't find anything fresh around Athens, we just waited until the next trip to Virginia.

Clams were a big staple for me. There was a particular restaurant, in Hampton I suppose, where I always ordered the fried clam strips with a side of parsley potatoes. I positively lived for it (there was something nearly addictive about those potatoes, peeled to look like large pearls, glistening with butter and dotted with parsley). At some point, I fell hard in love with New England Clam Chowder. I wouldn't touch the Manhattan style; only the New England style would do. I think I've tried the chowder in nearly every coastal city I've been to now, though I'm sure my favorite was at some roadside place I went to with my grandmother on a drive one time from Nags Head to Hampton.

For years, I just assumed it would too hard to make chowder myself, and I simply never tried. Then, while in Charleston for a wedding one Thanksgiving (1998 maybe?), I had a lobster bisque at a restaurant over the bridge in Mount Pleasant. I was crazy about the soup and raved about it until The Carnivore made a version of it for me for Valentine's Day that next year. I watched him fairly effortlessly put the soup together, and I got over my fear of cooking with seafood. It was from ordering bisque at countless restaurants during our honeymoon that I learned about drizzling in a tiny bit of cooking sherry right before serving.

My sister Yolie mentioned today that she wanted a good clam chowder recipe, so I was tickled to let her know I already had one filed away. I have only made this once, and I haven't had a chance to really perfect it yet, but I liked it well enough the one time I served it for dinner. Incidentally, the time we had this soup, months ago now, was the last time I ate seafood. Since I still haven't decided whether I will continue to eat fish, I haven't bothered trying to get better at seafood recipes yet.

I checked a few different recipes for general guidance on how to make chowder before coming up with what became:

  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 2 small red onions, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 3 (10 oz each) cans minced clams, drained with liquid reserved
  • 2 cups diced red potatoes
  • 2 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp sage
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 2 Tbs coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 chopped green onion
  • Cooking sherry, 1 tsp per serving
  1. Heat butter in large saucepan and saute onion until slightly translucent.
  2. Add liquid from clams potatoes, parsley, sage and salt; cover and simmer until potatoes are nearly cooked, about 15 minutes.
  3. Add clams, celery, milk, half-and-half and pepper; cover and simmer just to heat through (do not boil).
  4. Serve sprinkled with green onions and with sherry swirled lightly through the soup.

I had forgotten how good this recipe was until I typed it up just now. Maybe I shouldn't stop eating seafood after all...

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