My great clam chowder is adapted from a recipe in General Mills’, mid-20th century Special Silver Dollar City Edition of Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book; this reproduced cookbook was originally published in 1880, by Washburn Crosby Co., the makers of Gold Medal flour. (This collection also includes my all-time favorite oatmeal cookie, which I will share at a later date.)
I have enlarged upon this 19th century method of making this dish, by adding such flavor/texture enhancers as garlic, onion, celery, and unpeeled potatoes. Miss Parloa calls her receipt Philadelphia clam chowder; it introduces the technique of straining the clams, thus lending a delicate touch to the fish soup. I am not a big fan of clam chowder, but I love this because of its mellowness, resulting from the removal of the clam juice.
There is much to be said about the distinctive flavors of shellfish and fish. Harold McGee shares this apt science in his excellent treatise On Food and Cooking. He teaches why ocean and freshwater creatures vary so greatly in taste, the former having a much stronger bite.
Ocean water is about 3% salt by weight, while the optimum level of all dissolved minerals inside of animal cells is less than 1%. Consequently ocean creatures need to balance this substantial salt mineral, that they are breathing in and swallowing; they do this with amino acids, amines, and urea, which their bodies produce.
Behold, these substances have different flavors! For example the amino acid glycine is sweet, while glutamic acid is savory; shellfish are especially rich in these and other amino acids. Unlike shellfish, finfish rely heavily on the amine TMAO for processing salt, which is largely tasteless. Sharks, skates, and rays make ready the salt water with a slightly salty and bitter urea. However, this urea and the amine TMAO are converted into stinky substances, by bacteria and fish enzymes in these dead, ocean-dwelling fish; thus, after they are killed, their meat tastes and smells powerfully bad with age, while that of their freshwater relatives doesn’t.
Freshwater fish have a gentler effect on our taste buds, because the water they live in is actually less salty, than that of their cells; therefore, they do not need to accumulate these pungent amino acids, amines, or urea, which their ocean-dwelling cousins require to process the dissolved mineral salt.
You can see that different shellfish and fish supply our mouths with unique experiences. Seawater varieties use a diversity of amino acids, amines, and urea to balance the salt in their cellular systems; these differing substances boast of a wide variety of powerful tastes. Their freshwater counterparts, which don’t require these salt equalizers, are bland by comparison.
Miss Parloa counters the strong flavor of clam chowder by straining the clams, removing their excess liquid, which has an abundance of the above mentioned amino acids. (For more history on Miss Parloa and 19th century American cuisine, see 1880’s Escalloped Salmon-2017/04/17, 1880’s Minced Cabbage-2017/04/24, and 1880’s Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies-2017/10/30.) I take this illustrious chef’s simple inspiration and provide an even richer experience, with additional textures and mouth-watering thrills. You will like this delicious, yet mild, chowder!
General Mills’ Special Silver Dollar City Edition of Maria Parloa’s , Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1880). This partial reproduction was printed sometime in the mid-20th century.
Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984, 2004), pp. 188-189.
Philadelphia Clam Chowder Adapted from a recipe in General Mill’s, mid-20th century Special Silver Dollar City Edition of Maria Parloa’s Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1880). Yields: 8 servings. Total prep time: 1 hr & 30 min/ active prep time: 30 min/ cooking time: 1 hr.
Note: if you don’t have large enough pots for the makeshift double boiler-see step 1 for photo and directions-just cook the soup over direct heat; this, however, may cause it to separate some, but this last option will reduce the cooking time.
1 1/2 tbsp oil (Coconut or avocado oil is best; olive oil is carcinogenic at high temperatures.)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
6 ounce drained weight minced clams, or 3 strained 6.5 ounce cans (May use 6 ounces fresh razor clams, chopped fine, see top photo.)
2 stalks celery, cut in 1/4 inch dice
3 tbsp parsley, minced
1 lb potatoes, unpeeled, chopped in small 1/2 inch pieces
5 large cloves garlic, minced (May use 3 cubes of frozen garlic from Trader Joe’s for easy prep.)
1 1/2 quarts milk (Whole milk is preferable.)
1 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste (Real Salt is best; available in health section at local supermarkets.)
1/2 tsp white pepper, or to taste
Heat coconut oil in a 4-quart pot that will sit inside a slightly larger pot to make a double boiler, see photo. (If you don’t have two large pots, cook the chowder over direct heat; cooking will be faster with this last option, however, the cream soup may separate some.)
- When a small piece of onion sizzles in oil, add the rest of the onions and sweat, cook until translucent. Remove from heat when done.
- Fill larger pot 2/5’s full of hot tap water and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Meantime make roux, by melting butter in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add flour and stir constantly with a wire whisk; cook until light brown in color, about 2 minutes; set aside.
- Spray celery, parsley, and potatoes with a safe, inexpensive, effective produce spray: fill a spray bottle with a mixture of 97% distilled white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide. After spraying vegetables, let sit for 3 minutes, rinse really well.
- Drain canned clams in a colander. If using fresh razor clams, drain and chop fine (see top photo).
- Chop all vegetables and garlic; add to pot of cooked onions.
- Add milk, clams, salt, and pepper to the pan of vegetables. Fit this smaller pan into the larger pot, so it sits above the boiling water (see photo). Watch water level while cooking to make sure water doesn’t boil dry. Cook chowder until potatoes are soft, about 50 minutes. Note: if preparing over direct heat, bring soup to a gentle boil; lower heat; and simmer until potatoes are soft-this option will lessen the cooking time.
- When vegetables are soft, beat in roux with a big spoon; cook 5 more minutes, or until soup is thickened. Stir constantly.
- Adjust seasonings and serve. May freeze leftovers; when you heat thawed chowder, however, it will be of a thinner consistency. If desired, you may thicken with a small amount of roux-about 1 tbsp of melted butter cooked with an equal amount of flour-this amount will be adequate to thicken 4 leftover servings.
- I am passionate about this soup!