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Pierre Berton's Clam Chowder

CLAM CHOWDER (From his book Just Add Water And Stir)
Lunching in the Connaught-Sheraton Hotel in Hamilton one day, my eye was caught by the words "New England clam chowder" on the menu. As this magnificent dish is a rarity in restaurants, I ordered it instantly, my jaws slavering like those of a half-starved boarhound.

The waitress arrived presently with a bowl containing a pink and noxious fluid which I identified at once as Manhattan clam chowder, sometimes known as Coney Island clam chowder, an inferior compilation rendered hideous by the addition of tomatoes.

A giddiness came over me at this imposture and, insensate with rage, I seized an olive spear and sped toward the kitchen to confront the chef.

"Did you make clam chowder with tomatoes and advertise it as New England clam chowder?" I asked him.

"I did," the forger said, and without a second thought I stabbed him through his black heart. There was no blood in him; only tomato juice.

I surrendered to the gendarmerie at once and was dragged, unrepentant, before the magistrate.

"Why did you do it?" the kindly jurist asked.

"Because he made clam chowder with tomatoes," I answered in a ringing voice. Naturally, they set me free.

I have since been washing my mouth out with real New England clam chowder, sometimes known as Boston clam chowder, trying to rid my palate of the taint of the counterfeit brew. I have wallowed in about a gallon of it, hot with the fragrance of the sea, alive with juicy clams and chopped onions and tiny bits of bacon which gleam like small jewels in the thick succulence of the simmering tureen.

Oh sweet New England! Happy state to be so immortalized by association with this emperor among chowders! Even George the Third would forgive your treachery were he to sample this healing distillation of your ocean!

And if there are those in the audience who wish to follow me in a carnival of creation, let me put no obstacle in their way.

First, open two tins of butter clams. I know that real clams should be used, but this, alas, is Canada, and we do not get real clams in most of Canada. If you live on either coast, by all means use real clams. Otherwise, we must be content with the tinned variety.

Pour the clam nectar - but not the clams - into a saucepan and heat it up, adding at the same time about a cupful of clear chicken broth, a teaspoon of thyme, a teaspoon of celery salt, a teaspoon of paprika and a teaspoon of ground fresh pepper. Dice two large potatoes and let them simmer in this pleasantly aromatic brew.

Chop two or three medium-sized onions and four or five slices of bacon. Now take the drained clams and separate the necks, which are the tough parts, from the clams proper. Chop up the necks with the bacon and onions and sautee them very gently with butter in a skillet. On no account let them brown or crisp.

As you do all this you will become aware of a subtle change in your kitchen. You are no longer in staid old Toronto, Saskatoon, Wetaskawifi or Chilliwack, home of well-done roast beef and parsley potatoes. You are down where the relentless surf pounds like a lover's beating heart on the barnacled rocks, and the tall ships lean into the wind, and men in sou'westers trudge down to the seas again.

The chopped clams bubbling slightly among the onions and bacon and butter send up a bouquet which, mingling with the steam rising from the simmering and herbaceous nectar, brings memories of glistening beaches baking in the sun, far-off shores haunted by the ghosts of buccaneers, and stories by Stevenson and Captain Marryat. I cannot make clam chowder without recalling that scene of the Swiss Family Robinson's first night on their desert island, dipping shells into the hot brew that had been harvested from the garden of the sea.

When the onions are soft, dump the contents of the skillet into the saucepan with the clam nectar. Now add half a cup of dry white wine and let the whole mixture simmer very gently until the diced potatoes, too are soft. Do not on any account let the chowder boil at a gallop; everything must be done reverently and with patience so that the nectar and the flavours mingle together. In making clam chowder, speed is a cardinal sin and we need to exercise that forbearance which was a quality of those Pilgrim Fathers who, I am certain, had their characters tempered infusions of the New England brew.

When the potatoes are soft, add the whole clams and stir in two or three cups of milk, depending how thick you like your chowder. (if guests should suddenly drop in in large droves-a problem often encountered by chowder makers-just simply add more milk and more clams; chowder, after all, is an easily expandable dish.) You can use cream or whole milk, but I find partly skimmed evaporated milk (such as Farmer's Wife) just as good and perhaps better. Stir it in gently, too, so it doesn't curdle.

Now add a couple of pinches of Cayenne pepper and about a teaspoon of Madras curry powder. I have never seen this listed in a chowder recipe but I can vouch for its effect. It seems to pull the chowder together and to enhance the clam flavour. Curry can be used for other things besides curries, if it is used sparingly, and chowder is one of them.

Now we have reached the most difficult part of all. To have really chowder you should put it away and let it stand. Put it in the refrigerator and keep it cold, because of the milk it contains. Like mulligan and baked beans and many other dishes, it improves with age.

When you can stand it no longer, haul it out and get it piping hot. Crumble about a dozen salted soda crackers into the brew and let them soak well in. Then serve it up in big, deep bowls. This chowder is a meal itself. All it needs to go with it is a glass of chilled white wine - a Sautern or a Chablis, or a Riesling. If you belong to the Women's Christian Temperance Union add a little soda water to the wine. That will make temperate. You can do nothing with the Chowder itself, I fear. It is a most intemperate dish; after all, it was the food of pirates and freebooters a rebellious colonists of New England. Consume it at your peril.

A list of ingredients for your shopping guide:

2 tins butter clams
1 tsp paprika
1 cup clear chicken broth
1tsp ground fresh pepper
3 med onions
1tsp Madras curry powder
5 slices bacon
12 salted soda crackers
2 large potatoes
2 cup dry white wine
butter 2 - 3 cups milk
1 tsp thyme
cayenne pepper
1 tsp celery salt