Despite its namesake, Manhattan clam chowder is a chunky vegetable and seafood broth that is closer to the original than the more common thick and creamy style.
From the French chaudière, the name of the heavy cauldron used daily to cook such stews, a chowder (by any name) is the traditional seafood dish of coastal fisherman around the world. Ingredients would generally include chunks of potatoes and whatever vegetables were in season or available to which was added the leftover daily catch that could not be sold. Gently spiced and stewed for a relatively short time, it made a hearty and sustaining sea-flavored broth often thickened with biscuits.
The New England variety using dairy or a roux as a thickening agent did not appear until relatively recently, and its popularity forced the Big Apple appellation on this traditional soup almost as a pejorative. However, a cooked tomato base with clam broth and white wine nicely brings forward the seafood elements and additions like bacon and Worcestershire round out its flavor beautifully. You can use peeled, diced or crushed tomatoes or even tomato juice, depending on your solids preference.
Of course, fresh clams and their liquor will lend a bright and distinct flavor to the broth but they are not essential. Canned baby clams or chopped clams are perfectly acceptable along with their can juices but avoid large or finely minced clams. Substitute an additional can along with 8 oz of clam broth in place of the fresh littlenecks.
For best results, aim for a consistency of size among the vegetable and seafood pieces. Save some opened clam shells for presentation.
Manhattan Clam Chowder
1 lb littleneck clams (whole)
6.5-oz can of clams (chopped)
2 slices of bacon
1 yellow onion
1 stalk of celery
½ lb red potatoes
14.5-oz tomatoes (canned)
½ c white wine
2 c water
1 T flour
1 T butter
1 T parsley
½ t thyme
1 bay leaf
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 Bring 1 c water to a boil in a covered pot. Add the fresh, whole clams, reduce the heat, cover and steam for 10 min. Remove the clams from the shells, strain the broth and set aside.
2 Finely chop the bacon and fry in a pot until crisp. Remove and set aside to drain.
3 Dice the onion, celery and carrot and sauté in the reserved fat with butter and flour until soft, about 10 min.
4 Add the reserved broth, wine and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for about 20-25 min.
5 Dice the potatoes and add along with the tomatoes and spices. Continue to simmer, covered, for another 20 min.
6 Add the whole and chopped clams and any accumulated liquor or juices along with the Worcestershire sauce. Simmer for another 10 min to bring clams up to temperature.
7 Return the bacon to the pot. Season to taste and finish with a dash of Tabasco