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Chowder

Chowder

At its best, eating a bowl of chowder is like eating creamy brine packed with soft chunks (potato and fish) and chewy nuggets (clam and corn) — peppery, milky, porky seawater on the tongue, sliding down your gullet, chewy and soft in the teeth. My general recipe is probably very similar to yours and everyone else’s in New England. Chopped fatty pork with onion and celery all melted together as a base. A bay leaf and marjoram or thyme. Corn and diced potato. Plenty of fish broth and clam juice and whatever seafood you see fit to throw in — clams in their shells, shrimp and scallops, chunks of fresh, firm, white local fish like cod or haddock — with a dash of hot cream stirred in at the end and a sprinkle of minced parsley on each bowlful. Most people throw oyster crackers on top and/or a pat of butter to slide around and melt on the surface.

New Yorkers buy their chowder from corner delis in round cartons with packets of saltines. It’s a thin, oily, tomato-based stew full of slippery vegetables and tough little bits of clam. Manhattan clam chowder is a close relative of both Mediterranean bouillabaisse and San Francisco cioppino. I loved that stuff when I lived there, but now that I live in Maine, I can’t believe it goes by the same name.

At some point in history — I’m imagining a cold, blustery day, when tomatoes were out of season but the cow was producing in her winter barn — some resourceful cook (culinary lore suggests a French Canadian or Nova Scotian) stirred in some hot milk or a ladleful of fresh cream, and the result was so good, so deeply satisfying, an entire region of chowder-makers never looked at a tomato again.

Melville famously described the ultimate thick, floury New England chowder in his Try Pots Inn scene in Moby-Dick, when Ishmael quails at the idea of this strange-sounding supper, then exults in surprise when it arrives: “Oh, sweet friends! hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt.”

Whenever I sit down to a bowl of New England chowder — whether it’s corn, clam, fish, or seafood —I feel this same exact excitement. Oh sweet friends! hearken to me. There’s nothing better on a raw day, in any season, to warm the gullet, cockles, and soul. — KATE CHRISTENSEN

Portlander Kate Christensen is the author of Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My AppetitesHow To Cook A Moose, and seven novels. Her most recent is The Last Cruise.

Chowder

At its best, eating a bowl of chowder is like eating creamy brine packed with soft chunks (potato and fish) and chewy nuggets (clam and corn) — peppery, milky, porky seawater on the tongue, sliding down your gullet, chewy and soft in the teeth. My general recipe is probably very similar to yours and everyone else’s in New England. Chopped fatty pork with onion and celery all melted together as a base. A bay leaf and marjoram or thyme. Corn and diced potato. Plenty of fish broth and clam juice and whatever seafood you see fit to throw in — clams in their shells, shrimp and scallops, chunks of fresh, firm, white local fish like cod or haddock — with a dash of hot cream stirred in at the end and a sprinkle of minced parsley on each bowlful. Most people throw oyster crackers on top and/or a pat of butter to slide around and melt on the surface.

New Yorkers buy their chowder from corner delis in round cartons with packets of saltines. It’s a thin, oily, tomato-based stew full of slippery vegetables and tough little bits of clam. Manhattan clam chowder is a close relative of both Mediterranean bouillabaisse and San Francisco cioppino. I loved that stuff when I lived there, but now that I live in Maine, I can’t believe it goes by the same name.

At some point in history — I’m imagining a cold, blustery day, when tomatoes were out of season but the cow was producing in her winter barn — some resourceful cook (culinary lore suggests a French Canadian or Nova Scotian) stirred in some hot milk or a ladleful of fresh cream, and the result was so good, so deeply satisfying, an entire region of chowder-makers never looked at a tomato again.

Melville famously described the ultimate thick, floury New England chowder in his Try Pots Inn scene in Moby-Dick, when Ishmael quails at the idea of this strange-sounding supper, then exults in surprise when it arrives: “Oh, sweet friends! hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt.”

Whenever I sit down to a bowl of New England chowder — whether it’s corn, clam, fish, or seafood —I feel this same exact excitement. Oh sweet friends! hearken to me. There’s nothing better on a raw day, in any season, to warm the gullet, cockles, and soul. — KATE CHRISTENSEN

Portlander Kate Christensen is the author of Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My AppetitesHow To Cook A Moose, and seven novels. Her most recent is The Last Cruise.

Chowder