Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sunday Dinner Series Part IV: Hot Diggity Clam!

There seems to be a direct relationship between the number of parts in this series and the lameness of the title puns.  But we soldier on!

In case I've never clearly laid it out before, I'm Italian on my mother's side (Nonna and Nonno immigrated to Canada in the early 1950s, I believe), and French and Irish on my father's side.  It's been at least seven generations since my ancestors left, however, so I was never really exposed to many "traditional" French or Irish dishes in my formative years (though my sister Sar got her fill of the latter over the past little while... mmm, pudding and Irish breakfast).  Regardless, there are still certain meals that I associate with my paternal family and tradition.  One of these was New England clam chowder and freshly-baked biscuits.

As a kid, I wasn't in love with eating soup containing bivalves.  But as my palate has matured, I can't help but look back and think of how much I missed as a child, eating Lipton or Campbell's chicken soup while the adults feasted on THIS.

I'd still eat the biscuits, of course.
Many years have passed, and I'm now married to a wonderful man who loves shellfish of any sort.  I can't remember the first time I made this for him... it might have been a joint effort with my lovely friend Kimmi (her hubs also loves clam chowder... you should've seen how happy he was when he found it at a Chinese buffet!)  At any rate, he is an avid fan of my mom's old standby recipe for chowder and biscuits.  It's a delicious meal, to be sure... and it also has enough fat to nicely round you out and keep the cold Winnipeg winds out of your bones!  Ah well, it was never a weekly thing anyway... just a nice hearty "special occasion, Grandma and Grandpa are coming over to play bridge!" meal.

In the making!
Ready for its close-up.
New England Clam Chowder
Adapted slightly from the Women's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery (circa 1970, I think...)

Makes about 3 quarts, says the recipe... about 12 cups, says I.  It'll feed 6 people well.
  • 3 cans (10.5 oz each) minced clams
  • Water
  • 1/2 lb bacon, diced
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 3 cups diced raw potato (I usually use red potatoes and leave the skins on)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • 4 cups (1 L) homogenized milk (3.25% milk fat, I believe)
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • Paprika
  1.  Strain canned clams and reserve the liquid.
  2. Measure clam liquid; add water to top up to 4 cups.
  3. Fry bacon in a large pot until golden and crisp.  Remove and drain on paper towels and reserve.
  4. Drain off bacon fat, leaving behind about a 1/4 cup.  Add onion and sauté for 5 minutes.
  5. Add potato, salt, pepper, and clam liquid.  Simmer until potatoes are tender.
  6. Add clams, milk, and butter.  Reheat but do not boil.
  7. Top with crisp bacon and sprinkle with paprika.  Serve with biscuits.
Seriously, do as I say and serve with biscuits.
Biscuits: all the cool kids are doing it!
Cloud Biscuits
Courtesy of our honourary Aunt Kim, from out East (that's how you know they're legit)

Makes about a dozen regular-sized biscuits... only six if you make massive square ones like I did.
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 Tbsp sugar (increase to 1/2 cup sugar for sweeter biscuits worthy of strawberry shortcake)
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening (you can use lard, if you have some that needs using... ;))
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • Optional: 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese and/or 2 green onions, trimmed and sliced finely
  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. Sift together dry ingredients; cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs (a pastry blender, fork, or two butter knives works well here).
  3. Combine egg and milk; add to flour mixture all at once.  Stir.
  4. Add "optional extras" if using.  Stir until dough follows the fork around the bowl (i.e. until just combined).
  5. Pat or roll dough out on lightly floured surface until about 1/2 inch thick.  Dip a biscuit cutter into flour and cut straight down into the dough.  Put biscuits onto a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick spray.
  6. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 8-12 minutes.  Keep an eye on them-- you might need to use a spatula to lift them up and see how dark the bottoms are getting.  They should be a good golden-brown- not too light, but not burnt either (I've been guilty of this).  The tops should look dry, with no wet uncooked dough in evidence.
  7. Cool slightly (if you can wait that long) and serve warm.
Note the colour of the bottoms!
Nom nom nom.  Good for a Sunday dinner, plus lunch AND repeat dinner on Monday! Yes, I baked fresh biscuits the next day... they really don't take long to come together!
Sorry for the blurriness... I think this is about the last of my Cannon photography.  From here on out, I'll mostly be using my iPhone 4 camera-- it does a FANTASTIC job of taking food shots!

Now, if you've made it with me this far and are still thinking, "Ugh, clams... can't do it, Honeybee, sorry!" then I have a good modification for you.  Instead of three cans of clams, try using three cans of tuna packed in water instead.  You can even reserve the tuna liquid in the same way as the clam liquid; just make sure to test for saltiness before you add more salt in step 5.  Even if you're still against the whole seafood thing (I'm looking at you, Sher), you can make this without the fish.  Try using chicken stock in place of the fish juice + water, and add more potatoes for a lovely bacon potato chowder.  Maybe add some corn to the mix.  It's versatile!  Even better, it will warm you up from head to toe as the mercury (or more accurately these days, coloured alcohol) drops!

Off to curl up with her Nonna blanket while reminiscing about dinners with Grandma and Grandpa,

P.S.- This trip down memory lane seems like a great opportunity to show off one of my favourite shots from the wedding:
My seesters, helping me put on Grandma's pearls for the big day... but what's that?  The clam chowder aficionados are watching over us, just to the right of my shoulder!  Cute little Easter egg... funny the details you notice after the fact!  Also funny how something as simple as chowder can remind you of loved ones and simpler times.  Miss you, Grandma and Grandpa!