Manhattan Clam Chowder

According to food historian and blogger Janet Clarkson, the very first printed recipe for chowder appeared in the Boston Evening Post in 1751. Written as a poem, it described a stew with onions, pork, fish, herbs, and biscuits (hard tack, I think). Over the years “chowdah” evolved into a dairy-based stew in New England, and during the late 1800s the first tomato-based chowders showed up on the menu at Delmonico’s in New York, perhaps influenced by Portuguese immigrants who often put clams together with pork and tomato sauce.

If you are used to thick (or thin) cream-based, cracker-riddled, white clam chowder, this Manhattan clam chowder is a completely different beast. Not even remotely like the New England favorite. But, it’s good in its own right, especially if you love tomatoes and clams. You can make it as brothy or thick as you like. In our case we’re taking a little shortcut with the recipe by using canned clams for much of the clam component of the soup. Living here in California we don’t have as easy (or cheap) access to quahogs or chowder clams as they do on the eastern shore.

I originally had this soup in mind for Lent, and then remembered that it starts with bacon. It would still make an excellent soup for a Lenten fast, just skip the bacon and add more olive oil to start.

Manhattan Clam Chowder Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6-8.

If you have an ample supply of quahog chowder clams, feel free to use them in addition to the smaller clams, use them in place of the canned clams called for in this recipe.

Yum

Ingredients

  • 2 slices bacon (can sub with 2 more Tbsp olive oil)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 12 ounces of tomato juice, strained tomatoes or crushed tomatoes
  • 1 14-ounce can of clam broth or juice*
  • 2 10-ounce cans of baby clams, juice reserved*
  • 1 pound waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • A dozen or so live small clams, such as littlenecks or Manila clams
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Tabasco or other hot sauce

*If using fresh quahogs, scrub clean a dozen or more quahogs. Place clams in a small pot and add two cups of water. Bring water to a boil. Cover the pot and steam the clams until they completely open, about 10 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove clams from pot and set aside. Strain the clam steaming liquid through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth to catch any grit, reserving the liquid. Remove the clams from the shells, chop. Use chopped clams in place of canned. Use steaming liquid in place of clam broth.

Method

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1 Render the bacon fat. Slowly cook the bacon with the olive oil until the bacon is crispy. Remove, chop and set aside. Turn the heat to medium-high and sauté the carrots, celery and onion until soft and translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Do not brown the vegetables. Return chopped bacon to the pot.

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2 Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the herbs, tomato juice, clam broth and the juice from the canned clams, mix well, then add the potatoes. Bring to a simmer, cover and simmer gently until the potatoes are done, about 30-40 minutes.

3 When the potatoes are tender, add the canned clams and the live clams, cover the pot and simmer until the live clams open up, about 5-10 minutes. Add Tabasco, salt and black pepper to taste.

Place a clam in shell or two in each bowl for serving.

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Links:

The New England Chowder Compendium - Snippets of original sources of recipes dating back to the 1700s from the archives of the University of Massachusetts.
Rhode Island Clear Clam Chowder - from The Perfect Pantry
Clam Chowder with Bacon and Green Chile - from Food Renegade
Steamer Clam Chowder - from Leite's Culinaria


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Showing 4 of 23 Comments

  • GenĂȘt

    I’ve never had a tomato-based clam chowder before but am anxious to try this one considering how delicious it looks. I think I’m going to whip up Lenten and non-Lenten versions!

  • Gary In Massena

    To really make this recipe pop try adding a little dill! Just like Momma used to make.

  • elston

    I just bought some frozen quohog chopped for chowdah! I sometimes make the creamy NE style but more frequently a Rhode Island style chowdah with tomato and chorico sausage and garden herbs (rosemay and thyme primarily)and lots of black pepper. The RI style seems to have more clam broth and less tomato than the Manhattan you are offering this morning.

    You start by trying-out salt pork fat and saute the onion and then add the potato (maybe a little celery)…add the chopped clams….no carrots or other vegetables. Cook it in clam broth

    It is definately influenced by the Portuguese immigrants who settled in the coastal area around Providence.

    In RI chowdah is often accompanied by “clam cakes” which in RI…..are deep fat fried clam fritters (not the flat pan fried cakes served in Mass and Maine). They are such a local fav that Mc Donalds had them on their menu for awhile! Eat with lots of ketchup.

    Wow, those deep fried clam cakes sound dangerously good. Love the idea of including chorico with the soup! ~Elise

  • Shawna @ CheekyChicFamily

    I love your food-history lessons. Keep them coming. When I make an old recipe, such as this one, I like to think about what it was like when people were making a recipe long long ago. What kid of equipment they used…did they eat over candle light….can you tell, I’m a nostalgic type of person?

    I’m guessing whale oil lamps. I’m also guessing that they got up before dawn and got to bed pretty early, so that meals would be cooked and eaten when there was sufficient daylight. Great questions though, eh? ~Elise

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