It looks like the fish chowder was born from the English Channel. References to the soup are found in the fishing villages of the coast of Northwestern France and Southwestern coast of England, right across the English Channel from each other. The French word ‘chaudiere’, a cooking pot, may have evolved into the word Chowder. The village would have a large cauldron ready for the catch the fishermen brought home. Of course, there would be a celebration.
Meanwhile, across the Channel, Cornwall was cooking up their own variation of clams and oysters in broth with potatoes and pork. The Old English term ‘jowter’, meaning fish peddler, could be where our word ‘chowder’ originated. Layering ingredients, called the “layering technique”, made the first chowder. Onions were on the bottom to protect the pork from burning
When someone mentions clam chowder, not that it comes up in conversation that often, most of us probably think of New England Clam Chowder but there are a few more to explore. Chowder is a thick, chunky soup with a key ingredient, like clams or corn, and typically onion, bacon or pork, and potatoes. While the base is not always cream or milk (why not is beyond me), most people think of a cream based soup when they think of Chowder (pretty sure I asked all of them.). There are a couple chowders made with only a tomato base, but either way chowder is a thick, rich and hearty soup that with bread makes a great meal.
The Foundation of Chowder:
- The main vegetable, seafood, or meat.
- Stock or broth.
- Cream or milk, or a thick tomatoes base.
- Diced onion, bacon, and potatoes.
- A thickening agent, such as cornstarch, flour, or puree potatoes.
The whole debate of ‘tomatoes or no tomatoes’ in clam chowder is long standing. If you ask me, chowder should include cream (and nutmeg). In fact, in 1939 the state of Maine introduced a bill into legislature to make the use of tomatoes in clam chowder against the law, it was so frowned upon.
Two of the oldest restaurants serving clam chowder: The Union Oyster House was established 1826 in Boston, MA (you know, “Boston” Clam Chowder!). The building itself has been a part of history. Built in the early 1700s, it has been an importer of fancy dress goods, a fish store, in 1771 it housed the ‘Massachusetts Spy‘, the longest newspaper in the US. Hancock and Quincy’s wives hung out at the house mending clothes for the colonists. Louis Philippe (king of France from 1830 to 1848) lived in exile on the second floor of the Union Building in the fall of 1797. For more, perhaps interesting, on Phillippe and the exile check out the History of Massachusetts.
And on the West Coast one of the oldest restaurants serving clam chowder is Alioto’s Restaurant, a classic seafood restaurant now run by the fourth generation of the Alioto family. Alioto’s began as a fresh fish stall on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf in 1925, and now serving fresh fish in an elegant restaurant on the bay.
There are a number of clam chowders now: New England, Manhattan, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Hatteras (North Calolina), Minorcan , and more. Wikipedia does a good explaining the differences, check it out.
This recipe was using what ingredients I had available. It was for a little contest with mushrooms as the main ingredient, and it was a wonderfully rainy day (in Northern California every rainy day is a beautiful thing!). I would have used potatoes but had none.
Mushroom & Corn Chowder
- 1 qt. Broth (Chicken or veggie)
- All the veggies should be diced ¼ – ½ in.
- 3 Cups mushrooms – cut into ½ in. pieces
- 1 Cup corn – frozen is helpful when it’s out of season
- 1 Leek – diced
- 1 Celery stalk – diced
- 1 Carrot – diced
- 1 Sweet red pepper – diced
- 1 Onion – diced
- Parsley – minced
- Salt, lots of white or black pepper
- 1 to 2 tbsp. grated nutmeg
- ¼ or less cayenne
- Olive oil
- Thickening agent. I used flour
- Cream to taste
- Cut bacon into approximately ½ in. pieces and brown in a big pot. Remove, drain on towels, and set aside.
- Pour off the grease, keeping a tbsp. Add 1 tbsp. of olive oil, heat and add diced onion. Sauté onions 2 minutes.
- Add the flour to 1 cup of broth and whisk out any lumps. Add to the pot and simmer on low to thicken. When the flour doesn’t smell like flour it’s done. Be careful not to brown the mixture. You may need to add some butter or broth as it’s thickening. (You can also use cornstarch or other thickening agent.)
- Stir in 2 cups of broth.
- Add the leek, celery, carrot, pepper, mushrooms, and spices, cover with broth and simmer until almost done.
- Add the corn and stir and simmer until the corn is hot and the veggies are cooked al dente.
- Add more broth as needed. Chowder is meant to have a thick cream base, but if you want it a bit thinner, that’s OK with me.
- Add bacon and cream.
* The Alioto and the Union Oyster House photos are not mine They do not give photo credit on their websites but that is where I got the pictures.
These are the helpful references I used in this blog. I did not check their sources but feel pretty good about efforts. Many thanks.