I love soups and sauces, as the disproportionate number of them on this blog attests. If I go to a restaurant, I usually gravitate towards them first on the menu. Some of the more memorable ones I've tasted include a spicy green tomato and applewood smoked bacon soup with shrimp on top from G Restaurant (r.i.p.) in Birmingham, a creamy leek bisque I had at a fancy, last-evening-of-the-trip gala dinner at One Whitehall Place when I went to London with my parents back in 1997, and finally, that marvelous cream of mushroom soup I ordered at Mythos Restaurant in the Universal Studios Theme Park last summer, which I mentioned in a post earlier this fall. I used to feel simultaneously delighted and frustrated when I would eat these delicious bowls of awesomeness, completely mystified as to how chefs (and even canned food companies) managed to cram all kinds of flavor into a simple soup, until I watched enough cooking shows to learn about reducing broths in order to concentrate their taste. That's the secret to this chowder: lots of reducing and cooking things in clammy liquid.
However, I should begin by admitting that this dish has not been entirely perfected yet. It has come out differently both times that I've made it, in terms of its consistency (crazily thick the first time, a little too soupy the second), and a thick chowder is one of D.'s must-haves. This time when we made it, it required straining out the potatoes and clams, returning the broth to the pot, and boiling it for a while longer until it reduced and thickened some. I think the current proportions of liquid and solid in the soup are finally just about right, but you can tinker with it a bit in the same way we did, depending on whether you like your chowder thinner or thicker.
Regardless, trust me when I say that the flavor has not been problem in either batch of the soup. It's such a nice combo: it tastes ocean-y like clams, with a little freshness from the onion and celery, richness from the potatoes and half-and-half, and faint smokiness from the bacon. As a last note, I guess I should also confess that I had never even tried clam chowder up until several years ago, when D. let me taste a bite of his at a restaurant, so I allow the distinct possibility that my recipe might offend the palates of some chowder connoisseurs. Still, I suspect at this point that I may have joined their ranks. :)
Hope you enjoy...
alabama clam chowder
2 small cans minced clams, drained and juices reserved
2 bottles clam juice
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into a half-inch dice
1 large garlic clove, minced
half a large white onion, minced
1 large rib of celery with leaves, minced
2 small bay leaves
2 slices of bacon, chopped
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. flour
1 generous cup fat free half-and-half, warmed (but not boiled)
2 cups chicken broth
Add one bottle of clam juice to a large, heavy Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Reduce liquid by half. Add one cup of chicken broth and the reserved juices from one can of the drained clams. Boil diced potatoes uncovered in broth and clam juice mixture, just until tender. Remove to a bowl with any remaining liquid.
In the same unwashed pot, heat olive oil. Add bacon and sauté for a couple of minutes until it's a bit browned. Add bay leaf, onion, garlic, and celery, and cook over medium heat for several minutes until they have softened.
Add flour and stir until it's completely coated with the oil and drippings. Cook for a minute or two, just until the floury taste goes away.
Add the second cup of chicken broth, the second bottle of clam juice, and the drained liquid from the second can of clams to the pot. Let it come up to a boil, and then reduce heat to low. Simmer until slightly thickened and reduced.
Add half-and-half to the pot. Simmer for a couple of minutes until thickened and heated through. Finally, add canned clams and potatoes back to the pot. Heat through. Remove bay leaves.
Serve with baguette halves brushed with olive oil and toasted under the broiler for a couple of minutes.