Cape Cod has long been known for its local seafood, and you won’t find a restaurant anywhere in the region without seafood on the menu. Fried fish, especially fried clams, are considered the ultimate Cape Cod meal. Another favorite is lobster, broiled with butter sauce. But chowder, chowder has a history! Chowder appears to derive from the French word chaudière, a cauldron used by the fishermen of Brittany to cook up a fish chowder.
20 pounds quahogs or large cherrystones
2 quarts water
½ pound lean salt pork, diced 1 large yellow onion (about 14 ounces), finely chopped
2 pounds boiling potatoes (such as Yukon Gold), peeled and diced Salt, if necessary
Freshly ground white pepper to taste ½ teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups whole milk
3 cups half-and-half 1 cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1. Prepare the clams by letting them soak in cold, clean seawater (preferably) or tap water for 1 hour with a tablespoon of baking soda. Remove the clams and rinse then place them in a large stockpot filled with the water. Cover, turn the heat to high, and steam the quahogs until they all open, about 25 to 30 minutes. Discard any clams that remain firmly shut. Remove the clams from their shells once they are cool enough to handle and discard the shells but save all the liquid. Strain the liquid through a chinois, a conical strainer, into a smaller stew pot. Strain again through a cheesecloth-lined strainer if necessary. Chop the clams. You should have about 5 cups of chopped clams. You can do this in a food processor in pulses.
2. Add all the collected clam juice to the water you steamed the clams in. If you have less than 2 quarts of liquid in the stockpot add enough water to the collected juices to make up the difference, although you will probably have more than 2 quarts.
3. Bring the reserved clam liquor to a boil, then cook the potatoes until three-quarters cooked and nearly tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the reserved chopped clams and cook at a boil for 5 minutes, then turn the heat off and let the chowder sit. If scum forms, skim it off at once.
4. Meanwhile, in a skillet, cook the salt pork over medium-low heat until nearly crispy, about 15 minutes, stirring. Remove the salt pork with a slotted spoon and set aside. Reduce the heat to low and add the onions and cook until golden and very soft, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to deglaze the skillet. Add the salt pork and onion mixture to the potatoes and stir. Check the seasoning and add salt if necessary (it shouldn’t be necessary if you’ve used quahogs from Wellfleet) and the pepper and thyme. Let the chowder age in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
5. Remove the chowder and reheat over low heat. Once it is hot, add the milk, half-and-half, and or cream. Cover and heat the chowder until it is about 140 degrees F. The broth should never even come close to a boil though, otherwise the milk will curdle. Stir in the butter, remove the stew pot from the burner, but leave on the stove, covered, to stay warm for 1 hour or more and serve with oyster crackers.
Makes 10 servings