On a winter’s evening in Central California, with the fireplace warming the house and lighting up the dining room, a creamy clam chowder is deeply satisfying. And the California twist on the meal, the baby asparagus, gives it a garden fresh quality that cuts against the density of the cream… while the oven roasted garlic and the smoked bacon brings the umami flavors to a sumptuous natural high. It’s like riding a 50 foot wave from Mavericks Beach… right into Boston Harbor.
In our savory kitchen, often one feast calls forth a natural next one, as the feasts cascade from one to another. For example, in the winter months, we gather mussels along the wild Pacific coast north of Santa Cruz, California. After we steam these mussels, whether on the beach or in the kitchen, what we are blessed with is a wildly aromatic broth, redolent of the tide pools where the mussels live and thrive. This “broth from the sea” is a perfect base for our Boston Clam Chowder, and is crucial if we don’t have actual broth from the steamed clams. The sea salts that the mussels release means that our chowder is naturally salted from the ocean itself.
2 cups (16 oz) of heavy cream
10 to 15 THIN stalks of asparagus, cut into 3/4 inch sections
3 pounds clam meat (we often use the clams from two 51 oz cans of sea clams from Costco, which is sourced from a sustainable fishery)
24 oz clam broth, or broth from steaming a big pot of mussels
1 can crisp canned corn, use the juice also… or cut the corn from 3 cobs of white corn
3 Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1 large onion, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/4 cup of chopped tarragon
4 oz (1/2 stick) butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 entire garlic head, oven roasted
12 strips of smoked pork or turkey bacon, fried and chopped
1 tablespoon of ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt, to taste (you don’t need to add any salt if you use the mussel broth, the mussels released their sea salts into the steam water)
Add olive oil and the butter to a 13 to 14 inch pan and sauté the onions about 2 minutes, then add the potatoes, asparagus and tomatoes for about 5 minutes. Add salt, pour in the broth and simmer on medium until potatoes are nearly done. Place these ingredients into a large stock pot and add the cream, bacon, garlic, corn, tarragon, Worcestershire, pepper and clams. Simmer until thickened and married. If you use the highest quality ingredients, this feast is an umami bomb. Enjoy with toasted crusty bread.
This year our family jumped into the competition at the Santa Cruz Clam Chowder Cook-Off, which takes place every year on the Boardwalk along the ocean, with ten thousand chowder heads swarming the 50 booths. We made more than 20 gallons and sold out in 45 minutes. Folks seemed pretty passionate about our California take on classic Boston clam chowder… and the myth of Clamity John, who sank every ship he ever sailed but made a darn good chowder. We sure had a blast.