It's still clam season. Well it is for those of us who follow the old tradition of only eating clams for the months that have an "r" in its spelling. That means September through April.
I finally got around to making this favorite dish of mine: My Manhattan Clam Chowder. It departs from the traditional style in that I include baby spinach cut julienne style. Still, it packs all the other wonderful flavors of a Manhattan clam chowder and it is loaded with fresh littleneck clams.
A Note on Buying Clams for Chowders
There are about six types of clams for eating which depends on how they are to be served. The types are steamers, littlenecks, cherrystone, chowders, top necks, and razor clams. In A Guide to Buying, Shucking, and Eating Clams, Hugh Merwin states "On the East Coast, littlenecks, topnecks, cherrystones, and chowders are names for different sizes of the same species of hard-shell clam." But I have also found littlenecks and cherrystones used interchangeably. Chowder clams are larger, are older (up to 20 years!) and require longer cooking time. In my recipe I use farm-raised littleneck claims. While they are often eaten raw, when cooked just right, that is not too long, they are outstanding!
How to Clean and Purge Sand From Clams
Need I say clean and purge the sand from the clams? Well, I'll say it any, just to be sure we're on the same page: Clean and purge the sand from the claims. Here's how:
Scrub or rinse the clams under cold water.
Place them in a large bowl of very, very salty water. Use about 1/4 of coarse salt (preferably sea salt) to every quart of water. Soak them for 30-60 minutes, or even overnight. Just store the bowl in a very cold place. (It's been suggested to use corn meal as well. I don't speak as an authority on the matter, so I'll repeat what I've read. Claims will exchange any impurities they're holding in their shells for the corn meal. When you cook them, it's been suggested that you could end up with polenta (a porridge or mush). It's also been reported, according to someone who read it from The American Test Kitchen that adding corn meal doesn't do anything.
Whew, so I just stick with an old try and true method of giving those babies some clean salty sea water to expel sand and grit.
If your clams appear loaded with sand, rinse out the water and repeat the soaking. Farmed littleneck clams don't have a lot of sand, so usually one soaking will do the job.
Yields 6-8 servings
Heavy bottom Dutch oven
2-3 slices of bacon
1 Tablespoon butter, unsalted
1 cup Vidalia onion, chopped
2-3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 - 28 ounce canned diced tomatoes, with its juice
1-1/2 pound Yukon gold potatoes (about 3 large ones), peeled and cubed
3-1/2 cup clam broth (yielded from cooking the clams)
1 - 8 ounce bottle of clam juice
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 fresh bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup frozen corn, white or yellow
2 ounces baby spinach, cut 1/4 inch julienne style (see Notes below)
40 littleneck clams, steamed (removed from shells but leave about 6-8 in shells for garnish)
Steam the clams. After cleaning the clams (see instructions above), place them in a large heavy Dutch oven. Add 3 cups of water and cook over medium-high heat until clams open, about 10-14 minutes. Check the pot about 10 minutes into cooking and transfer to a bowl any clams that have opened. Remove clams from shell, accept those to be retained for a garnish. Throw out clams that have not opened by 12 or even 14 minutes. They're dead! Strain the broth left in the pot through a sieve lined with cheese cloth or double paper towels. Set broth aside. Yields about 3-1/2 cups.
Cook 3 vegetables. Rinse out the pot. Over medium heat, add bacon and cook to render fat; brown to a crisp. Remove cooked bacon, chop and set aside. Melt butter in the pot. Add onions and cook until it's translucent. Add garlic, cook for about 1 minute being careful not to brown or burn the garlic. Remove onions and garlic to a plate or bowl. Add potatoes. Cook for about 5 minutes. Smash several potato cubes to encourage thickening the juice.
Create a tasty broth. Add broth from clams, bottled clam juice, bay leaf and sprigs of thyme. Return onions and garlic to the pot. Cover the pot and cook 10-15 minutes, still at medium heat, until potatoes are tender.
Add remaining vegetables: Tomatoes and corn. Cook for about 5-7 minutes. Bring ingredients to a simmer. Add spinach and clams, including clams in the shell. Give a gentle stir and remove pot from the heating element.
Serve with lemon and/or oyster crackers.
Here's how to cut baby spinach julienne style. Stack several leaves, roll like a cigar, then cut crosswise about 1/4 inch.
Recognition: Years ago, I had created my own version of a Manhattan clam sauce to include spinach. Later, I ran across a James Beard version. Liked it. And then I added many of his techniques here and such ingredients as butter.
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