If you have strong opinions about chowder you might freak out when you learn about Long Island clam chowder. Judging from the picture below you’re probably already a little alarmed. Yeah, it’s pink. I know, strange, isn’t it?
We all know chowder allegiances run deep in the Northeast. Everyone claims the version they grew up with is the REAL version and anyone who likes anything else is a heathenistic putz. If you’re passionate about certain regional seafood chowder recipes, just the idea of a Long Island clam chowder may set off ripples of scorn and quite possibly, waves of anger.
To that, I say, “GOOD!”
That means I like you. I like anyone who is passionate about food. I want to see your face turn red when you defend your regional food favorite, whatever it may be – pizza, subs, chowder, etc. I want to hear a chorus of expletives and wild hand motions as you stake your position.
For example, if you tell me anything other than a New York bagel is a bagel I will immediately descend into a loud, insolent jerk. I can’t help it. Totally out of my control.
Now if you have similar feelings about chowder, please sit down before I tell you what a Long Island clam chowder is exactly. Take some deep breaths. Make sure there are no sharp objects around.
A Long Island clam chowder is a blend between tomato-based red Manhattan clam chowder and dairy-based white New England clam chowder. Thus, the pink color.
Are the veins in your forehead starting to throb? Jaw getting a little tight? Fists clenching?
I know what you’re thinking…
It’s like someone who likes the Yankees AND the Red Sox. Ever met one of those weirdos? It takes every bit of self-restraint to not scream in that person’s face, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!”
Admittedly, when I first heard about a Long Island clam chowder, my reaction was kinda like…
And I grew up on Long Island.
Never in all my years on Long Island did I even hear a whisper of such a thing. The only reason I discovered it is because I’ve been writing a cookbook about New England seafood soups. And so quite by accident, I stumbled upon Long Island clam chowder online.
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This article by the Long Island Press suggests that Long Island clam chowder is a recent trend that’s catching on. Others suggest it’s a gimmick based on the fact that Long Island is geographically in between Manhattan and New England. A Google search for recipes turned up very little.
So I took it as a challenge to do what many would consider unthinkable.
Combine tomatoes and cream into a chowder.
In so doing I’d answer the question for myself if it really has the potential to catch on. Because on the surface it’s not that crazy of an idea when you really think about it. Cream of tomato soup and penne alla vodka are just two examples of popular dishes that combine tomatoes and cream.
So why not in chowder?
I know this will be hard for many to believe but…
It is damn delicious.
No seriously. Don’t knock it until you try it. In the past year, I’ve made all types of chowder imaginable. Beyond Manhattan and an authentic New England clam chowder, there’s also brothy Rhode Island clam chowder, milky Maine clam chowder, Portuguese clam chowder, Boston fish chowder, lobster corn chowder, mussel chowder, scallop chowder, and many more.
I don’t know if Long Island clam chowder will catch on or not. As of now, I could only find two places on Long Island that serve it. I wouldn’t exactly call that a trend.
But it’s definitely not a gimmick. In fact, in my research on chowders, I found a recipe in a late 19th-century cookbook for a Connecticut Clam Chowder that used tomatoes. Obviously, that never caught on but perhaps at one point, it may have been more common than we think.
Making a Long Island clam chowder is not difficult. It’s really as simple as making a Manhattan chowder base (though I keep the veggies to a minimum) and just finishing it off with cream. The full printable recipe is below but there are three essential tips I want to share that will help you make a really great version from the get-go.
Look at these beautiful hard shell clams from the Long Island Sound…
If you live on the East Coast, most local fishmongers will carry hard shell clams. The seafood department of many supermarkets also has them. Get cherrystone or quahogs, the two largest varieties of hard shells.
Canned clams just don’t have the same rich flavor and tender juiciness. Better still is the clam liquor (also called clam juice) inside those clam shells. When steamed in a little water, the clams will open and the juice will infuse the water and make a beautiful briny broth with a fresh, clean crisp taste of the sea. This is the true essence of any type of clam chowder.
I know canned clams and bottled clam juice is more convenient. But there’s just no comparing the flavor of the real thing. If you really want to use canned clams, you’ll need about six or seven six-and-a-half-ounce cans for the recipe below. You’ll probably get just enough juice in those cans for the broth but you might need to purchase a bottle or two of clam juice.
Canned tomatoes, on the contrary, are richer in flavor than fresh tomatoes. Never use fresh tomatoes in tomato-based chowders. Muir Glen organic canned tomatoes are a good choice. San Marzano tomatoes from Italy are also a good choice but be wary of fake supermarket brands as this article points out.
A little tomato paste will add an extra depth of flavor and richness.
I’ve seen every type of milk and cream used in chowder recipes – low-fat milk, store-bought whole milk, grass-fed raw milk, canned evaporated milk, half and half, and heavy cream. And I’ve tried all of them, except low-fat milk, which is sacrilegious to chowder. Trust me when I say that heavy cream is the best choice for flavor and texture. Choose a good quality grass-fed product, if possible.
I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below. Have you ever tried a Long Island clam chowder? Would you even try it? Do you think I’m a heathenistic putz for even suggesting it? Have at it you crazy chowderheads! Better yet, make the recipe first, and then let me know what you think.
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.