So many of my original creations come from dishes that I absolutely crave, but keep being underwhelmed by when ordering them at restaurants or finding some random recipe online. I'm sure some people will same the same about my recipe because we all have different tastes.
So what makes my recipe different? I ramp up the umami component. Normal chowder has the caramelization of the bacon on the bottom of the pan. I add the dashi packet and concentrate the broth to increase the flavor there.
I also have a heavy hand with white pepper because I feel it melds perfectly with the cream and mellow flavor of the clams. For me two teaspoons adds the perfect amount of heat, but you may want to start with one depending on your heat preferences.
I always start with this step because sometimes it just seems to take forever to reduce 4 cups of both by half. Just add your 4 cups of broth to a small to medium pan and set it to a rolling boil. Add the Dashi packet and be careful that it is not going to boil over. Once it is on a stable boil, just forget it for awhile and continue the recipe. Check it now and again to see if you are getting near the half way point.
Oh... and don't be picky about getting it to 2 cups... somewhere near half way is fine, we are not baking. All we are doing is concentrating the flavor. When the broth level looks about half of what it was... you are likely good to go. If you want to measure though Kerry understands the need, go ahead you food scientist. Your the ones who keep the rest of us honest.
I first purchased mine as a seasonal item at Costco, but they do not carry it all the time. I don't know if all brands do, but the ones I have purchased come in a sachet like a tea bag you add to a liquid or a soup base. Since Costco, I have seen it multiple times in my trips to the international markets in town. I've come to use it in multiple recipes where I want additional seafood flavor from miso soup to shrimp and grits. It's easy to use and very versatile. It does not make every dish taste Asian as you will find with your first bite of this delicious clam chowder.
In a large heavy stockpot fry the bacon until it is crispy. We are going to use it as crunchy topping for serving the chowder, so get it good and browned. I cut my three pieces up into smaller pieces so that it fits better in the bottom of the pot, but there is no right or wrong.
Once the bacon is cooked to perfections, remove it to a cool on a paper towel to cool.
If you have not already chopped all your veggies, turn off the stove and let your grease cool while you prep your celery, onions, garlic and potatoes. If you have them ready (you go getter) skip pas the next step.
I feel like texture is important in clam chowder, and I don't say that about a lot of soups. They are generally pretty forgiving... or at least have their own positives. For me it's the fiber in the celery that needs to be broken up. I'm not one to devein my celery, so I make sure I chop it fine. I use about a 1/8 of an inch dice. For the onion, I feel it's much more forgiving. I just give it a good chop that usually ends with most pieces somewhere around 1/4 inch.
Re-heat the grease if you let it cool. When it is nice and hot add the onion and celery first, let them sizzle for a moment and then add the garlic. As you stir them scrape up the browned bits of bacon from the bottom of the pan. If you are having a hard time getting them up, let the veggies sit on top of them for awhile and steam, then scrape them good. I use a wooden spatula.
Cook on medium heat stirring frequently but not constantly.
*Tip-You might want to check on your broth at this point! If it's reduced by half, squeeze the dashi bag like you would a tea bag and throw it away. Turn off the heat.
Continue cooking until the onion is translucent and some edges of the onions are browned, but we are not trying to caramelize the onions, we don't want the entire onion browned. When they are mostly translucent and a some of the you've come a few signs of browning, you are good to go.
Take the 1/2 cup of wine or sherry and add it to the hot pan. While it boils and bubbles use a sturdy spatula to scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Continue to stir and cook until the wine is mostly evaporated but not until the pan is dry. Lets just call it 75%. (I'm no Kerry in the kitchen)
If you have not already checked your broth, do so. If it's not completely reduced by half it's probably reduced enough. You can pause and wait or you can boldly move forward. If you have not already chopped your potatoes then you still have some time to let the broth reduce.
Add the broth, thyme, bay leaves, and white pepper to the onion wine mixture. give it a good stir.
Ok, Kitchen confessions time: I'm not a huge 'Mise en Place' kind of guy. I'm more of a 'hope it falls into place' kind of guy. That being said, I usually do my potatoes ahead of time. Raw potatoes don't really taste good, so I want them all cooked, so that means they all need to be chopped roughly the same size. That way they cook in roughly the same time. I think the 1/2 inch dice fits nicely in a soup spoon.
It's no biggie if you are chopping them now. Just turn off the heat, get to chopping and set the pot back to boiling before your add the potatoes.
Notice that there are more potatoes than liquid. We will soon rectify that. Stir in the potatoes and there are usually a few that are not submerged in the broth. This lets me know my broth reduction was right on track and my potatoes were about the right size.
If my potatoes are submerged completely at this point, I might dice up another real quick and through it in the pot. After all, all potatoes are not created equal.
Open the three cans of clams and add only the juice from the cans to soup. At this point the liquid in the pot usually just covers the tops of the potatoes. You can still see the squared of the potatoes just below the surface.
If you have lots of potatoes sticking out it just means your spuds were a little larger. You could either remove a few, or if you have extra broth on hand add some until the potatoes are just covered. Or you can choose to add the extra 1/2 cup of wine as an optional part of the recipe now.
Continue to cook the potatoes until they are done. Usually about 15 minutes. I also begin my salting process at this point some some of the salt is absorbed into the potatoes. To test for doneness I pull out one of the larger chunks of tuber to test.
Once the potatoes are done, mix together the cream, milk, flour and corn starch in a medium bowl. Add the milk mixture to the soup while stirring. The flour and cornstarch should begin to thicken the soup immediately. Continue stirring until the soup in thoroughly combined and has returned to a light boil. Be sure to stir frequently at this point as the flour and milk will tend to thicken on the bottom of the pot if left to long and form clumps.
Continue cooking for at least 5 more minutes to make sure the flour has a chance to cook. The chowder should be nice and thick. Add any remaining salt to your personal taste.
Just before you are ready to serve, stir in the clam meat from your 3 cans of clams. Adding the clams too early will cause them to be too chewy. Remove the bay leaves if you are worried about them ending up in someone's bowl. Ladle the chowder into bowls, garnish with a bacon crumbles and the chopped greens from the celery stalks if you have them. If not, parsley if you have it works great too.
*Note: Lemon- I add wine to this dish as a source of complex acidity. Every wine is different. If in tasting the chowder before serving the dish seems to 'heavy' I will sometimes add about a teaspoon of lemon juice to the pot to 'lighten' it up. I don't want it to taste like lemon, just to brighten it up a bit if the wine did not do it for me. Everyone has their own taste, a thin slice of lemon on the bowl works too, but some guests will over squeeze and have an unpleasant lemony chowder.