Monday, July 30, 2012

Simply Red Clam Chowder

Lydia with some of our nation's servicemen at a vendor event

Eric's Red Clam Chowder

  • 2 pounds fresh clams, littleneck or steamers work best
  • 1 large bunch fresh parsley
  • 1 large head of garlic, peeled and diced into cubes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomato puree
  1. In a large stockpot containing 6 to 8 cups boiling water, place the clams in a colander for easy removal.  Cover the pot tightly and decrease the heat to medium to prevent boilovers.  Cook for approximately 10 minutes, until all clams pop open in their shells.  ***If a clam does not open after cooking, it is not safe to eat and should be discarded immediately.***
  2. Remove the colander using pot holders and set in a sink to rest and cool.  Add the garlic, parsley, salt, pepper and tomato puree to the stock in the pot.  Cover and simmer the mixture, stirring frequently until it returns to a rolling boil.
  3. Meanwhile, shuck the clams and rinse them under cool water to remove any grit.  Add the clams back to the broth and cook another 15 minutes on medium heat in covered pot.
Serve hot with garlic bread, salad and a cold glass of beer for a fulfilling meal with up to 10 friends and family members.

The Military and Civilian Worlds Meet at the CrossRoads of Culinary Delights~~Lydia Dittrich
 There is something powerful about memories associated with a meal.  A single taste of the same dish years later will transport the diner to that moment in time when they first experienced it.  For me, one of these dishes is red clam chowder.

The summer of my 19th year on this spin around I met an incredible man.  We had an amazing connection in our all too brief affair, and while I will honor the memories of the man and our time together by not getting too descriptive, this is one story I am pleased and proud to share with you all.

Eric was an enlisted man from Oregon who was stationed at our local Army post, Fort Drum.  We met through mutual friends, and clicked immediately on all kinds of levels.  I had never dated a soldier before, but Eric was special.  His zeal for life lived to the fullest and a funny story was infectious, and we spent many evenings discovering the best restaurants in Watertown and the north country.

Eric and I had made plans to go out for dinner at the local vintage joint, The Crystal, on Public Square in Watertown.  We got there, and as we waited for a table at the 1920’s walk up bar, he sipped a cold MGD and we began looking over the menu.    Because he was from the West Coast, the clam chowder caught his eye.  Most people know clam chowder as the thick and creamy soup laden with potatoes, carrots and onions you can stand your spoon in on a cold winter afternoon.  This rendition is often called New England clam chowder or White chowder.  The Crystal served a Manhattan, or Red, chowder.  The clam stock was added to tomatoes, parsley and lots of garlic for a light twist on the classic soup as meal.

He had never heard of this before, and after I explained how the recipe went, he ordered it “just to say that he had tried it”.  Five bowls of the soup later, he was addicted.  Our summer love affair dwindled as such things do, but we kept in touch off and on over the years.  He had found a recipe online and made the soup all over the world.  It traveled with him to Lousiana where he shared it with the Cajun platoonmate for his mammy’s Jambalaya recipe.  It made its way through Georgia and airborne training.  It got introduced to his platoon of recruits awaiting shipment into the Gulf theater from Germany.  When he returned from the war and moved back to Oregon, it warmed him on many a cool misty Portland evening.

Last year, my first love and very dear friend passed away, leaving behind a grieving widow and family.  So this recipe needs to keep traveling, in memory of a wonderful person who changed the lives of so many.  And I will always treasure the memory of that simple dinner in the Crystal, watching a hungry man savor this timeless and simple dish.  A la prochaine, mon amie!  This one is for you Red!

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