Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Clams For Dinner, Northeast Style

I'm not sure what other people see when they look at a bucket of fresh dug clams but the minute I looked in that salty water I saw fritters.
Growing up in Maryland seafood was a regular choice but more often than not for us it was oysters or steamed crabs. I'm sure there were plenty of clams on the Eastern shore but other than my Dad's spaghetti with clam sauce they weren't regular at our house. In the summers though, spending Northern beach vacations on the cold shores of Cape Cod I came to know a whole other kind of seafood delights -- steamed lobsters, rich chowders, and clam fritters. At home we had "padded oysters" but in Massachusetts and Rhode Island their fritters were like puffy, savory clam flavored donuts. Crispy, salty, savory and served along side steaming bowls of fresh chowder.
Most people know creamy white New England chowder or tomatoey Manhattan style but in the Southern edge of our nation's smallest state there is a unique variety with a light (if you can call any recipe that starts with salt pork light) broth and plenty of potatoes and clams.
I started our soup by sautéing small cubes of salt pork in a bit of oil. When the meat crisped up and rendered it's fat, I poured off the excess oil and added a chunk of butter to the pan along with a diced onion and about an equal amount of chopped celery. The vegetables cooked for about 10 minutes and then I added in  a couple cloves of minced garlic. Cubed potatoes, diluted clam broth, thyme, bay leaves and plenty of cracked black pepper went into the pot and simmered for 15 minutes until the potatoes were just tender. Chopped clams along with a generous handful of fresh parsley were the last additions.  The clams heated through and our chowder was ready to serve.
I think most times clam fritters -- unlike Marylands oyster fritters which use raw seafood -- were a clever way to use up leftover steamers. I used my regular batter (1 cup flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 cup milk, 2 eggs -- mix the dry and wet ingredients separately and then add wet to dry and fold in the clams) and fried up puffy light clam fritters to serve with our chowder just like I've seen so many time sand diners and seafood shacks all along the Northern coast.

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