Clam Chowders

Chowder is a thick soup -- thicker than most soups, but not as thick as most stews.  The most common chowders are clam chowder, seafood chowder, fish chowder, and corn chowder.



There are three main varieties of clam chowder: Manhattan, New England and Rhode Island. The only places I've been to that offer more than one are Dino's in North Haven CT, Milford Seafood in Milford CT, (converted to a pizza place in late 2006), a restaurant in the rear of the food court on the Ocean One pier/mall in Atlantic City (probably long gone), and some

Red Lobsters.


Strangely, although clams are known worldwide, the center of chowdering seems to be the northeast US. I've never heard of "Pacific Coast Chowder;" and "California Clam Chowder" is a
music CD, not a food.



Some San Francisco restaurants and hotels tout "San Francisco clam chowder," but it's just like chowder in Connecticut, Massachusetts or Maine. 



Many restaurants on San Francisco's famous Fisherman's Wharf serve New England or "Boston" chowder -- as if they don't have confidence in their own cuisine. It's frequently served

in a bowl made out of a hollowed out mini-loaf of Sour Dough bread (at least that part is authentic San Francisco).



The Old Fisherman's Grotto on Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey CA, serves "Monterey Chowder."  It's creamy, just like New England.



Farther north, you can find "Seattle Clam Chowder" and Puget Sound Clam Chowder. They, too, are just like New England.



I've seen a few recipes for Maryland Clam Chowder, with ingredients including chicken and peas. I have no intentions of trying it. 



Restaurants & Institutions magazine reported that the Shore House Restaurant & Tavern in Stamford, CT offers "Connecticut chowder"  with clear clam broth, in addition to traditional New
England chowder, and a spicy red Rhode Island variation.




 

Manhattan -- the red stuff, tomato-based, and my favorite is prepared well in lots of Greek-owned diners all over the US.



Campbell's canned versions are OK, if you add a can of clams and a can of tomato paste. Stew Leonard's store-brand chowder is better than Campbell's, but also benefits from some extra
clams and tomato paste. The store-brand chowder at my local ShopRite is superb. I eat it at least twice a week -- sometimes for breakfast.  Progresso clam chowder, like most Progresso canned soups, has too many pieces of carrots. Yuck.

Red Lobster serves Manhattan at some of their restaurants. It's just a little bit better than Campbell's, with tiny bits of clams and too much pepper. The branch in the north end of Bridgeport CT is better than most.



Despite its name, I understand that Manhattan chowder was invented in New England. There are not many clams in the water around Manhattan.



Up in the Bronx, you can get great Manhattan chowder at the Sea Shore restaurant on City Island. Their menu also shows steamers, but you can get steamed littlenecks if you ask. The
waiters will also sing "Happy Birthday" if you ask.

A little bit farther north, you can get thick, rich Manhattan (and other superb seafood) at the Mont Olympos diner on Fort Hill Road in Yonkers. Dinners come with cups of soup, and you can upgrade to a bowl for 25 cents, but can probably get a free upgrade by just asking for it.


New England -- the white stuff, made with milk or cream. I eat it when I can't get Manhattan, but I don't get excited over it.



It's available in zillions of restaurants, and in cans. Some companies make low-fat versions. Clams don't have fat, but milk and cream do. There are lots of good sources near and on Cape Cod, including McMenamy's in Falmouth,  Cooke's and

Bobby Byrne's in Hyannis, and the Seafood Sam's chain.



Northern New England clam chowder is quite different
from Southern New England clam chowder (just as northern New England lobster rolls are quite different from southern New England lobster rolls).



The chowders served in Connecticut and on Cape Cod are thick, gooey and gloppy. You could lick it off a stick.

Up north (also known as "down east"), chowders are based on a thin milk-like broth that could be slurped  through a straw.

We found great examples at Bob's Clam Hut in Kittery, Cindy's in Portland, and Lunt's Lobster Pound in Trenton, just north of Bar Harbor.



These chowders have a pool of golden melted butter on top of the milk. Lunt's adds some paprika and parsley. They have great boiled lobsters, too.


Rhode Island -- the light gray stuff, made with clam broth. Very good when made right, but hard-to-find. 
My absolute favorite is served at Dino's in North Haven CT. Second place ranking was

Milford Seafood in Milford, CT -- but they were replaced by a pizza place. Until I do some more testing, former number three, Jimmie's in Savin Rock (West Haven) CT, is now number two.


The absolute worst I've ever tried was in North Haven, a few miles south of Dino's, at Nick's Char-Pit. It was really celery soup, with no discernable presence of our favorite bivalve. My
visit was the first time in my life I couldn't (wouldn't, actually) finish clams and chowder. YUCK!


St. Augustine Florida has a distinctive Minorcan variation of
Manhattan chowder, that uses hot datil peppers, grown only in the St. Augustine area.

The Minorcan clam chowder story began when eight ships were launched from the island of Minorca, near Spain in 1768. The 1,403 passengers on board were bound for an indigo plantation in New Smyrna, south of St. Augustine. Though the Minorcans believed themselves to be contracted as indentured servants to Dr. Andrew Turnbull, the plantation's owner, they were enslaved

for nine years.


Settlers who managed to survive, escaped in 1777 from the plantation and made their way to St. Augustine, where they came under the protection of Governor Patrick Tonyn. They brought their own spices and cooking traditions with them, and the key ingredient was the datil pepper.



Just as in New England, chowder was an easy food to make, it could be cooked in one pot, and it would feed many hungry people. It was a meal made from necessity using fish that was plentiful in their new surroundings and their own familiar seasonings, not one they had brought from their homeland. The Minorcans were extraordinary fishermen. The fish was plentiful and the soil was poor, so their creativity probably led to dishes
like chowder.



Maggi Smith Hall, author of Flavors of St. Augustine, a cookbook that traces the history of St. Augustine cooking, found evidence that the tomato was grown in St. Augustine at least during the second Spanish period (1784-1821). She states: "Tomatoes were one of the crops grown by Phillip Fatio, who had a plantatiion in Switzerland, Florida. So, while New Englanders were enjoying their cream-based chowder, those make-do Minorcans were already using the tomato."





(Info in this St. Augustine section is from Linda Stradley, writing in What's Cooking America. Photo is from O'Steen's Restaurant in St. Augustine. )


"Chowder" has its roots in the Latin word "calderia," which originally meant "a place for warming things," and later came to mean "cooking pot." "Calderia" also gave us "cauldron," and in French became "chaudiere." 



Our modern seafood chowder was invented by French fishermen, who traditionally threw whatever bits of fish or vegetables were on hand into a communal pot. (From www.word-detective.com  and other sources.)



The pot and the northeast locale give a double connection between chaudiere and chowder. In Connecticut there are several restaurants named "chowder pot," a nicely redundant phrase, like "chaise lounge." (Pot pot and lounge lounge.)

According to by Dale Carson of "Indian Country Today," New England clam chowder is based on a dish prepared by Rhode Island's Narragansett Indians. 


The word quahog comes from the Narragansett Indian name: poquauhock. The quahog's scientific name, Mercenaria mercenaria, is derived from a Latin word meaning "wages." The Native Americans used quahog shells to make beads  that they used as money. (From  www.statehousegirls.net/ri/symbols/shell/ )


 

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