My mother would be proud.
Make that: my mother and my grandmother and all those women who clung to the coasts, forever and ever, back and back, would be proud.
Yesterday I made clam chowder for lunch, with clams caught fresh off of Long Island.
Let me explain.
I come from a long line of New England women, from coastal Maine to be precise (date of entry: c. 1630): hardy Puritan types who attended church every week and grew their own vegetables and, undoubtedly, knew how to make every kind of seafood that their husbands could pull from the rocky Atlantic. I practically have clam chowder in my blood, and you know how things in the blood come out at the oddest of times. Moving to a new apartment must have stirred in me some ancestral longing for the fruits of the sea, because I had the oddest urge to buy a dozen steamers from the Costa Rican fisherman at the greenmarket on Sunday. And this is me, the woman whose idea of "seafood" is frozen shrimp!
Growing up in the land-locked Midwest, my mother took my sister and me to Maine every summer, to learn about things like blueberry crumble and high tides, lobster bibs and whoopie pies, abandoned shipyards and haunted houses. A notoriously picky eater as a child, I must have saved my parents hundreds of food-dollars as I studiously avoided all attempts by concerned relatives to feed me lobster, preferring instead to nibble on dinner rolls and french fries at our annual reunions.
Now, I feel no regret at missing those crab-cakes and scallops -- all in good time, I tell myself, all in good time. Some day, once I have gotten over the fact that I have actually made clam chowder in my own kitchen, I will set out to make these other things. And they will be even better than memory -- they will create their own memories.
For now, a simple, completely invented recipe for clam chowder, Manhattan-style:
1 dozen large steamers (clams)
2 ripe tomatoes, diced
4 small, new potatoes, halved and sliced thin, with skins
2 T. butter
1 1/2 c. red wine
1/2 c. cream
1 c. white rice
salt and pepper to taste
Utensils that might not be lying around: steaming rack and medium pot to go in
1. Melt butter in a large, chowder-sized pot and add onions. Stir constantly, until lightly browned, then add the diced tomatoes and the potatoes. Cook for several minutes more, stirring to incorporate.
2. Add the wine, cream, and rice to the vegetable mixture, and bring to a boil. Add more water if necessary, to maintain a runny broth, and keep at a simmer until the potatoes and the rice have nearly cooked through.
3. Meanwhile, lightly rinse the clams to remove grit, and discard any whose shells have cracked or are gapingly open (a sign that the poor animal may already have met its demise). Add the clams to the chowder base and cook, stirring often, until the shells have opened and the clamlet is swimming in the broth. (See image above.) Add fresh basil, and salt and pepper to taste (keeping in mind that the clams release a lot of salty brine as they cook). Serve with home-made bread or other delectable carbohydrate.