Sunday, September 17, 2006

Weekend Cookbook Challenge #9: A Local Ingredient

This month's installment of Weekend Cookbook Challenge brings me back home, after several episodes of cooking using ingredients and recipes from far and away places, with the theme of cook using an ingredient found locally. I took this challenge to mean not only locally but also an ingredient that screams of where you live. Since I live in New England and more specifically Boston, I knew there was only one thing (besides Baked Beans which I already did here for WCC#7), I could cook, Boston Clam Chowder made with Cape Cod Quahog Clams.

Quahog (pronounced KO-hog) Clams are the largest of the hard shell clams found very abundantly from the coastal waters of Maine down to the New Jersey shore. Quahogs are known locally as "chowder clams" because these clams are so large (the size of a dessert plate sometimes) that the meat is tough enough to withstand a long simmer in the stewpot and not get rubbery. Early fall through early winter is the best time for clams and scallops in New England because the waters are starting to cool down and they are at their sweetest. There are several good recipes for New England Clam Chowder with the Legal Seafoods version probably the most famous (it has been served at every US presidental inaguration since 1981). Some of the recipes make a thick chowder and call for up to a cup of flour or other thickening agents but true New England chowders aren't particularly thick relying on the starch from the potatoes to thicken the chowder. I own several cookbooks with good recipes for New England Clam Chowder but chose to make tonight's chowder from the newest edition to my every expanding cookbook collection, The New England Cookbook by Brooke Dojny, "Thick and Creamy Boston Clam Chowder". I can see this cookbook quickly becoming one of my favourites to not only cook from but to read from as well. Each recipe is well written and includes not only a story about the history of the food as to how it relates to New England but has these wonderful sidebars that include quotes from famous and common New Englanders. My favourite quote so far is from a nine year old who told his mother the reason he filled up on Dilly Bean Pickles at a church supper was because it was the only thing he could find to eat he liked.

The Boston version is the thickest of the New England Clam Chowder because in additon to almost 5 cups of diced potatoes it also calls for 1/4 cup of flour added to the sauted onions and salt pork drippings to make a roux. The Boston version also calls for not only milk but light cream (or half and half). The traditional accompaniment with New England Clam Chowder is the Crown Pilot Cracker, which is basically hardtack, and was almost discontinued several years ago but was saved by the outrage of the normally reticent New England populace. But tonight I served it with another old fashioned New England staple, Anadama Bread made in my rarely used bread machine. Anadama bread is a hearty bread that uses corn mush as it's base. According to legend, a crusty backwoodsman was married to an awful cook named Anna, who could only make corn meal mush. One night, after a long, cold day in the woods, he came home to find yet another meal of corn meal mush, he grabbed the bowl, went to the cupboard and grabbed some molasses, some yeast, and some flour, stirred them into the bowl to form a dough, and placed the bowl into the coals. While the bread baked, he muttered under his breath "Damn you, Anna." over and over. Thus the name Anadama bread.

Thick and Creamy Boston Clam Chowder
from The New England Cookbook

1/4lb salt pork, diced (make sure the piece has a good mix of meat and fat)
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 cup flour
3 cups whole milk
4 cups clam liquor, juice or broth
5 cups diced potatoes
1 large bay leaves
2 tsp dry thyme
3 cups coarsely chopped clams
2 cups light creme or half and half
salt and pepper taste
1 tablespoon butter

Prepare the clams and set aside. Cook the salt pork in a large stock pot over medium heat until all the fat is rendered and the pork bits are crispy. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pork bits and set aside on paper towel to drain. Add the onion and cook until soft. Add the flour and stir constantly for 2 minutes until a roux is formed. Add milk, clam juice, potatoes, bay leaf, and thyme and cook for about 10 minutes at a simmer or until the potatoes are just tender. Add the clams and light creme and let simmer for 10 minutes or until the clams are heated through. Serve with crackers or a hearty bread.

Anadama Bread
from Bread Machine Magic by Linda Rehberg and Lois Conway

3/4 cup water (82 degrees)
2 cups bread flour
1/4 coarse ground yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter (softened)
2 tablespoon molasses (use any type BUT blackstrap)
1 1/2 teaspoon bread machine yeast (some machines, like mine require a bit more)

Add wet ingredients to breadmachine pan, the dry ingredients, adding yeast last in a little "valley" on top of dry ingredients. Use the Basic Loaf, Medium Crust setting on your machine. Makes a 1 lb loaf.