No one really knows what part the Portuguese and/or Italians played in the creation of Manhattan style clam chowder, save for the fact that one or both of them brought tomatoes to the overall recipe of a potato thickened soup with clams. Unlike its northern New England style cousin, which derives a great deal of its flavor from the heavy cream infused broth, Manhattan style chowder derives its flavor from the compliment of both clam and vegetables, with the clams singing soprano in concert with the vegetables and tomato broth. It is clam chowder, after all. New England style chowders are usually silky and velvety affairs, sometimes trussed up in all white, which are by nature rich and obviously excellent for a first course. By contrast, many Manhattan style chowders tend to look more like a tomato-vegetable soup with an afterthought of clams. Like any other soup, the quality of Manhattan style clam chowder rests upon what you put into it. Canned clams will not do.
Another difference between the two competing chowders is a matter of how they are thickened. What makes a chowder a chowder is that it is a soup that is thickened with potatoes. While both styles use potatoes, which lends its starches to the broth and thereby thickens it, the New England style also relies upon cream as a thickening agent whereas the Manhattan style does not. A result of this is that Manhattan style chowders will not be as creamy and therefore not as rich tasting as their northern brethren. What a good Manhattan style chowder has is a very clear briny clam flavor in a moderately thickened broth. The goal here is bring out the clam flavor without overpowering the vegetables that comprise the rest of the soup. The broth should not resemble a thick tomato sauce.
Why the name Manhattan to refer to this style of chowder? According to Alton Brown's show Good Eats, many in the New England states took offense to the addition of tomatoes to the broth and therefore named it after Manhattan, presumably because the people of Manhattan would be the only people crazy enough to do just such a thing. This is odd because, according to the show, the people of Maine were the ones making derogatory remarks about this chowder which was from (at least in some part) the Portuguese immigrants of Rhode Island. Manhattan had nothing to do with it. Reading between the lines a little bit, one of two (and perhaps both) different theories seem to me to be a more accurate representation of why the name Manhattan was used to name this chowder: 1) the real reason this variation on chowder was named such was really a result of a certain type of classism that dominates the New England landscape so as to indicate that anything from Manhattan as being gauche or 2) the provincial nature of many New Englanders is that they look down upon the latest batch of immigrants much in the same way that New York City is regionally denigrated and therefore the chowder and the people who made it are just as worthless as Manhattan. Regardless of the case, the Manhattan style is outstanding as a chowder and, if you get a good one, should not be missed.
Like any other chowder, Manhattan style does not keep well past a couple of days and should be eaten as soon as it is prepared. In regards to the clams themselves, I prefer to make this chowder when clams are at their prime, which in the United States is from late August/September through January/February. If you don't like to fool with the clams themselves, you can use canned clams. For this recipe, I would purchase five 6.5 oz. cans of minced clams and add them when you would normally add the clams in the recipe.
Serves 6-8, either as a first course or main meal.
- 7 lbs. of medium sized clams (littlenecks or cherrystones).
- 3 oz. of thick cut bacon, cut into 1/4 inch pieces.
- 3/4 cup dry white wine.
- 8 oz. bottle clam juice.
- 1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes.
- 1.5 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, 1/4 in. diced.
- 1 medium carrot, small chop (and by small chop, I mean a little smaller than what you might consider bite sized).
- 1 large yellow onion, small chop.
- 1 stalk of celery, small chop.
- 1 small yellow bell pepper, small chop.
- 4 cloves of garlic, either minced or run through a garlic press.
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano.
- 1 large bay leaf.
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, for garnish.
Prepare the clams as follows:
1.) Wash the clams, making sure to get any residue such as sand off of the shell. I use a vegetable brush for this purpose.
2.) In either a large stock pot or Dutch oven, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Place the clams in the receptacle of your choice and cover. Cook for 4-5 minutes, uncover and stir the clams. This will make a lot of noise and that's to be expected. Cover again, this time for 2-4 minutes. Uncover. Once the clams begin to ever so slightly open their mouth, remove them from the pot into a bowl; allow the clams to cool enough so that you can handle them. Once you have all the clams out of the pot and (if any clams do not open their mouth after 10 minutes, discard) into the bowl, open the clams and remove them from their shells, making sure to save any juices that fall into the bowl. Once you have removed the clams from the shells, mince the meat into small pieces, 1/4 to 1/2 inch dice. Set aside.
3.) Combine any juices that fell into the bowl into the water that is remaining in the pot. Pour this broth into a measuring cup, making sure to avoid letting any sediment flow into your cup. You should have about 5 cups of broth here and if you don't, add water until you do. Rinse the pot and place it back on the burner.
Now the plan comes together:
4.) Fry the bacon in the empty pot so that the fat renders and the bacon turns crispy. This should take about 6-8 minutes on medium low heat. Once the bacon gets crispy, add the celery, carrot, onion and yellow bell pepper. Once added, reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until the vegetables are softened. When the vegetables reach that point, add both the garlic and oregano and stir for 30 seconds to a minute.
5.) While bringing the heat to high, add the wine to the pot. Boil the wine until it reduces by half; this should take about 4 minutes. Once the wine is reduced by half, add the reserved broth, clam juice, potatoes and bay leaf. Once this comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low and let the chowder simmer. By simmer, I mean enough heat to force up a bubble every couple of seconds. Wait for the potatoes to get almost tender; you can check them with a fork. There should be a small amount of resistance to the fork going in, though it should not go in too easily, as then the potatoes would be done and therefore overdone by the time you finish preparing the chowder. The potatoes should take about 10 minutes for this to happen. Once the potatoes are tender, smash a couple (3-4 small chunks) against the side of the pot so that they release their starches. After smashing the potatoes, allow to simmer for another 5 minutes.
6.) Now add the tomatoes. The temperature differential between the tomatoes and soup will be such that the soup will go down a couple of degrees. Allow the pot to come back up to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.
7.) Take the pot off the heat, remove the bay leaf. Add the clams and season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with parsley, stirring some into the chowder along with drizzling some on top. Serve.
Mother's recipe box
Good Eats, Season Five, Episode 12.