Crisp autumn days call for comfort food. As the leaves begin to fall, thoughts turn to nourishing soups and stews. For me, comfort food is best enjoyed in the form of a big bowl of steaming hot seafood chowder. Dishes like this truly soothe the soul.
This chowder was inspired by a trip to Ireland earlier this year. Everywhere I went, there was some type of fish/seafood chowder on the menu. And, I did my best to try as many as I could. The ones that stood out were loaded with an assortment of (typically smoked) fish and/or seafood. The broth, not too thick, but rather, smooth and creamy.
I dislike nothing more than ordering chowder at a restaurant that’s heavy-handed with the potato and lacking in fish/seafood. Of course, when you make chowder yourself, you’re in the driver’s seat. You have complete control over the type and amount of seafood.
I went heavy on the seafood — smoked mussels and beautiful top neck clams — no skimping in my kitchen. I bought the mussels already smoked [Ducktrap River smoked mussels]. If you can’t find smoked mussels, you could always substitute smoked fish (e.g, smoked salmon, mackerel), or add a bit of smoky bacon to your chowder (equally good). Whichever way you decide to go, I feel this chowder would be lacking without some kind of smoky component.
Aren’t these clams a thing of beauty?
All you need to do is place the clams in a pot with a small amount of water (or white wine). Cover and let them steam. After a few minutes, the clams will pop open and voila, they’re ready. Chop them up and add to the chowder. And, the great thing about clams is that they exude the most wonderful liquid, creating a broth reminiscent of the sea.
At it’s core, this is a humble chowder. A simple potato and leek soup elevated by the addition of seafood.
Be sure to clean your leeks well. Leeks are magnets for grit and sand.
I used a generous amount of smoked mussels and chopped clams.
3 medium leeks, cleaned well
1 pound potatoes
3 tablespoons butter
2/3 pound *smoked mussels (weight out of the shell)
12 top neck clams
2 cups dry white wine or water
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 bay leaves
leaves from few sprigs of thyme
freshly ground black pepper
chopped parsley, garnish
Thinly slice the leeks. Peel the potatoes and cut them into a large dice.
Heat a thick bottomed pan over low heat. Add the butter. When the butter has melted, add the leeks and cover with a lid. Let them cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft but not browned. Add a little water if necessary to prevent browning. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Place the clams in a large pot. Pour in the wine (or water) and cover. Place over high heat until the clams open. Remove the clams from their shells and coarsely chop. Strain the clam cooking liquid through a fine mesh sieve to remove any grit. Reserve the liquid and set aside.
Put the potatoes in a soup pot, along with 1 3/4 cup of the clam cooking liquid. Add the cream, bay leaves, thyme, and a few grinds of black pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaves.
Add 2/3 of the cooked potatoes, 2/3 of the leeks, along with the cream to a high speed blender. Blitz briefly until smooth. Add the puree back to the soup pot. Add the remaining leeks, mussels, chopped clams. Bring back to a boil and serve (you can add a little bit of water if it’s too thick). Garnish with
*Alternatively, add smoked fish (e.g., smoked salmon, mackerel) in place of (or in additon to)