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One of my favorite places in the world is Rockport, MA. I spent many a childhood summer there, swimming in the FREEZING cold water of the North Shore of Mass, not eating seafood, eating tons of fudge and candy, and in general just loving it. One summer, my childhood best friend and I were given money by our mothers to go get ourselves dinner (our families would vacation there together all the time), and instead we had giant ice cream sundaes for dinner.
So it’s no surprise that I still love Rockport, and I really love the fact that I now live about an hour’s car drive away. Yes, I could take the train (and I did that in college), but driving up isn’t really all that bad, and parking isn’t THAT hard to come by up there.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Rockport is a small fishing village on Cape Ann, MA. It has kept much of it’s charm, and is not commercialized, and for many, many years was a dry town. I now have even more reason to go up there, as my childhood best friend AND her mother both own houses up there. I smell summer vacation 2010…
During our staycation, one thing we did on a whim was drive up to Rockport for an afternoon. We walked around town a bit (and naturally I managed to forget my camera in the car for that, and thus have no pictures), had a drink at my friend’s house, and then went out for fried seafood. We ended up at the Lobster Pool, a clam shack of sorts that was in a beautiful location right on the water. It had indoor and outdoor seating, counter service, was BYOB (as everything in Rockport tends to be), and completely crowded, which means that it’s got to be good.
We got there around sunset, and were unable to find a table outside. They have tons of picnic tables (and a guy making smores from a campfire) outside, but we were able to grab a table inside. They have everything from fresh lobster to fried anything, to salads and clam chowder.
Being the non seafood eater that I am, I opted for my usual chicken tenders and clam chowder, and my husband got the MINI fisherman’s platter. And it’s a good thing he got the small one, as that thing was packed with fried goodness. He didn’t even come close to finishing the thing. It took us a while to get our food, but the people in front of us each ordered 2 lobsters a piece and tons of other things (I’m not even joking, they each spent well over $100), so we got to just sit around and chat and take in the atmosphere. Instead of stuffing ourselves silly we just ate to capacity (not over) and then drove home, and made awesome time, by the way.
All in all it was a great day, and my husband FINALLY got his fried seafood he had been craving.
This weekend we had my sister in law and brother in law (and nephew) over for dinner. I was asking my husband what we should have, as nothing was really coming to me. “Chowder,” he said. Well, I like a good challenge (probably why I joined daring bakers), and I like to make things from scratch.
So I took to the internet, looking for good chowder recipes. Of the New England variety, of course. And to be quite honest, it was tough. SO many recipes called for canned clams, which was an abomination to me, seeing as I live on the water. Or at least in a city on a harbor. But I guess people in the midwest need their clams as well.
Finding a good recipe that used fresh clams, and that was thick and hearty (there is nothing I love more than thick and hearty chowder) was definitely a challenge. Oh, did I mention that I don’t eat seafood (much to the dismay of my husband, who grew up on Cape Cod and also Long Island Sound), and will only eat tuna out of a can and clam chowder? I’m working on it people, I’m really trying. So this was the only seafood dish I would really make for him.
I went back to a cookbook my mom always used, The New Basics Cookbook, and adapted their recipe. I also went on a hunt for fresh clams, my first place didn’t have them, so we ended up at Yankee Lobster Fish Market down on the Boston waterfront. It was a door in the wall that said retail (behind their restaurant storefront) with TANKS of fresh seafood. I’m pretty sure they are used to dealing with much bigger orders than we gave them, but the clams were great and pretty reasonably priced.
Did I mention that if you’re on a diet, this is not the chowder for you?
2 dozen cherrystone clams, well scrubbed
2 cups water (if using a big steamer, at least double this amount)
8 oz slab bacon, cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large onions, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (I at least doubled this amount, I like it THICK)
6 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice (my husband said mine weren’t small enough)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Place the clams in a large soup pot along with the 2 cups (or more, for a steamer) water. Cover, and cook over medium heat until the clams open wide. Discard any that don’t open.
Remove the clams from their shells, and coarsley chop them.
Strain, reserve the broth.
Cook the bacon in the soup pot over low heat until fat is rendered and the bacon is wilted and slightly browned around the edges, about 5 minutes.
Add the butter and onions, and cook, stirring, until the onions are wilted, about 10 minutes. There is nothing quite like the smell of bacon, onions, and butter cooking together. Add the flour and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes.
Add the reserved clam broth, potatoes, thyme, and pepper. Simmer another 5 minutes. I also added in some celery and carrots for color, and cooked this all a bit longer than the recipe called for, no one wants undercooked potatoes. Also, if it’s WAY too thick, just keep adding in more clam broth.
Add the reserved and choped clams and simmer, stirring often, until they are tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Do not overcook, or the clams will be tough.
Add the milk and cream, and stir well over very low heat until hot. Do not boil, or the soup will curdle. Adjust the seasonings, stir in the parsley, and serve immediately with a good crusty bread or oyster crackers.