Vicki here, still annoyed with a sneaky little something I saw on Monday’s Today Show.
I don’t often tune in to morning television, but I was taking a break between finishing the first draft of my latest Darby Farr mystery and starting revisions. During a diet demo segment, I sipped my tea and watched as Dave Zinczenko, co-author of Eat This, Not That, regaled Ann Curry with his opinion on which Super Bowl foods are “better,” calorie-wise, than others. Among the chips, dips, wings, and bottles of beer spread out on the set were two heaping bowls of clam chowder –Manhattan and New England.
Zinczenko warned Ann that our beloved version – the one and only clam chowder — “is going to turn you into a giant” because it weighs in at a hefty 420 calories. He claimed chowder lovers could cut 65% of their fat intake by going with the tomato-based (dare I say, fake?) variety.
First of all, Zinczenko had “prepared” some sort of canned glop with “chunky” in the brand name, so it’s not surprising it would be full of fat, sodium, and God knows what else. As we all know, real clam chowder is not the consistency of pudding. It’s a cream-based soup, yes, but the broth is thin and nourishing. You’d never mistake it for spackle, mayo, or your grandmother’s face cream.
Mainers recognize this, because we’re the ones who invented clam chowder. Originally it was made of just water, clams and Maine potatoes, with a base of salt pork (a salt-cured chunk of pig used in many colonial American dishes.) Massachusetts folk may have been the ones to add milk, making the soup heartier and creamier. They also began using cut-up quahogs, particularly prevalent on Cape Cod, but here in Maine we stick with what we’ve got: tender whole steamer clams.
But tomatoes? Red flag on that play!
It’s a crime to even think the “T” word when talking chowder. As renowned chef James Beard said, “That rather horrendous soup called Manhattan clam chowder . . . resembles a vegetable soup that accidentally had some clams dumped into it.” Someone ought to pass a law about it… and, in fact, someone tried. In 1939, a bill was introduced in the Maine legislature to make adding tomatoes to chowder a statutory and culinary offense. Unfortunately, it didn’t fly.
Back to Monday’s little quarterback sneak. Could it be that this chowder challenge was not actually about clams or calories? Was it really an underhanded jab at the Patriots, a sort of “blocking below the waist” kind of infraction? Was the whole cast in on it? Call me crazy, but this kind of behavior would not have been tolerated by New Englander Meredith Vieira when she was on the show. Back in the day, she’d have blown the whistle on Zinczenko for sure.
The words of the Seinfeld Soup Nazi, paraphrased just a bit, are so appropriate here. “No Chowder for
You, Today Show!” Yeah, you keep your tomato-based broth – we’re going to enjoy the real thing, right along with Tom and the rest of the team. Clam chowder is rumored to be a Brady favorite, so cook up a kettle and cheer on the Pats!
Below is a recipe for Maine Clam Chowder from Saltwater Seasonings, a cookbook of coastal Maine favorites by Sarah Leah Chase and her brother Jonathan Chase (now cooking at Buck’s Restaurant in Brooksville.) If you want to try something quicker, Jennifer Brizzi’s Simple New England Clam Chowder is easy yet satisfying. She’s a native New Englander living in upstate New York who’ll never go to the dark side.
5 dozen medium-size steamer clams, rinsed several times to remove sand * 3 cups cold water * 8 Tablespoons unsalted butter * 1 large onion, diced * 3 stalks celery, diced * 3 Tablespoons all purpose flour * 3 large Maine potatoes, roughly cut into 1/2 inch chunks * 2 cans (12 ounces each) evaporated milk * 2 cups half-and-half * freshly ground black pepper, to taste * 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley * 4 slices bacon, cooked until crisp and then crumbled * dash paprika
1. Place the steamers and cold water in a heavy stockpot. Turn heat to high, cover, and steam until all the clams are open, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the clams from the pot and set aside to cool. Strain the broth through several layers of cheesecloth and reserve.
2. In another pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the celery and onions and saute until the vegetables just begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Do not let the vegetables brown. Add the flour and stir constantly for 3 minutes. Slowly add the reserved clam broth and stir. The liquid should thicken immediately. Add the potatoes, reduce heat to low, and cook until the potatoes are just tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
3. While the soup is cooking, remove the clams from their shells (making sure also to remove and discard the coarse sleeve over the neck) and reserve. When the potatoes are cooked, add the clams, evaporated milk, and half-and-half. Increase the heat to medium and cook until the soup returns to serving temperature. Season with black pepper.
4. Ladle the chowder into large bowls. Sprinkle the chopped parsley and bacon bits over each bowl. A dash of paprika on the top adds a colorful final touch. Serve at once with oyster crackers or hot biscuits.
Makes 8 generous servings.