Contrary to what most residents of New England believe, tomatoes and clams can make a truly harmonious union in chowder. The problem is that they rarely do. As a native New Yorker, I have to admit that it’s pretty rare that I get excited over a Manhattan clam chowder. Most taste like an insipid tomato vegetable soup. So I decided to make what I believe is a purer, more restrained type of Manhattan clam chowder recipe, one without excessive vegetables and one that highlights the actual, get this, CLAMS in Manhattan CLAM chowder. But not any type of clams. FRESH clams.
The difference between fresh and canned clams is like the difference between a juicy steak and a well-done steak. The former retains its flavor, the latter has it all cooked out. Of course, if you like the taste of used car tires, by all means, go for canned clams. But if you want to try a Manhattan clam chowder recipe that actually tastes good, well, ya gotta use fresh whole clams. Like these beauties I got from a local seafood market…
Ain’t they purdy? I just love ’em.
In particular, you want to use fresh quahogs, a species of hard-shell clams. Most fishmongers will carry them and many supermarket seafood departments also have them. Quahogs come in four different sizes depending on their stage of growth. The smallest (and youngest) are littlenecks, the next size up are topnecks, after that are cherrystones and the largest is also referred to as quahogs. You can use any size for chowder but the larger ones yield larger clam meats (pictured below) which are more ideal for chowder.
They’re like plump little water balloons bursting with succulent clam flavor! For this reason, I don’t always chop them before adding them to a chowder. Typical practice is to chop or dice them. Just know you will lose a little of their tenderness when you do this. It’s not that big of a deal but I gotta say the experience of chomping on a fresh whole clam in a chowder is pretty otherworldly. Otherwise, just halve or quarter them. Dicing them up too finely will leave them prone to turning rubbery when you add them to the hot chowder in the last step.
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Fresh clams also have the added benefit of creating their own clam juice (also called “clam broth”). All you need to do is put them in a stockpot with a cup or two of water and steam them. The shells will open, release their juices and create a divinely delicious broth with a fresh ocean flavor.
My version highlights the natural symmetry of tomatoes and clams by foregoing typical Manhattan clam chowder ingredients like green peppers, carrots, and celery. I also add some tomato paste for a thicker consistency and richer tomato flavor. This may be an unusual interpretation but I think it’s delicious. And that’s really all that matters in the end. Give my Manhattan clam chowder recipe a try and let me know what you think in the comments below.
Freshly steamed clams, homemade clam broth and minimal vegetables are the defining features in this stripped down version of a Manhattan clam chowder.
Rinse and scrub clams well in cold water. Bring 3 cups water to a boil over medium high heat in an 8-quart stock pot. Cover and add clams and steam about 8 – 12 minutes or until clams open. Check frequently and remove clams with a slotted spoon or tongs as soon as they open. Strain broth and set clams aside. You should get about 4 cups clam broth.
In a heavy bottom stock pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, thyme, oregano, red pepper and bay leaf. Saute about 5 until veggies are softened. Add garlic in the last minute.
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.