Let’s explore chowder – what is it, where did it come from, why do we love it?
First – What is chowder? Chowder is any thick soup made from a creamy potato base, in the simplest definition. Chowder can also describe a fish/potato soup or fish soup that is not creamy, although in the United States this is not common.
Second – Where did chowder come from? The traditional etymology for the word “chowder” comes from the pot in which it is cooked – a chaudron. Chaudron comes from the French meaning “a pot,” developed from “chaud”, the French word for “hot” – so, a “hot pot”.
Third – Why do we love it? We love chowder not only because it is delicious but because it is a comfort food. Comfort foods are usually classified as those which are warm, homey, and simple. Chowder fulfills all those requirements – and more.
The Basics of Chowder:
Chowder of any kind involves a thick creamy base – known in Classic French cooking as a “Béchamel”. Béchamel is a basic cream sauce consisting of a roux, milk, onion, one clove, salt and pepper, and a bay leaf. Making a Béchamel is very easy – take one onion slice and one bay leaf, put them together and pierce with the clove. Soak this in the milk while you make the roux. Once the roux is ready, pour the milk into your pan and whisk vigorously until the roux is incorporated, remove the onion/clove/bay leaf. At this point you can set the Béchamel aside and concentrate on your chowder ingredients; we’ll focus on Clam Chowder for all intents and purposes, but you could add corn or diced potatoes or whatever you like in place of the clams. For a gallon or large stock pot of clam chowder, you will need at least a pound of clam meat – get the kind which has already been shucked and ready – it’s much faster. Canned clams might sound gross but they are actually very good for cooking. (16oz of canned clams = 1#.)
1# canned clams
3.5 quarts Béchamel
½# potatoes, cooked and medium diced
1 full stalk celery, washed, medium diced
1-2 oz butter/margarine
salt/pepper to taste
Sauté the celery in the butter/margarine until translucent (clear). Add clams and potatoes and sauté briefly. Combine clams/potatoes/celery/Béchamel in a large stock pot, season to taste. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Make sure your chowder does not get too thick – if it does, remove from heat and add a little milk to desired consistency.
Chowder is traditionally served with fluffy biscuits or crunchy crackers.