Now that the cold weather has arrived, it’s clam chowder season.
The “Oregon Field Guide” team was at the coast earlier this year filming Newport-based clamming expert Bill Lackner for our story on Crab and Clam Clinics. Not only did Lackner allow us to follow him around for two days, he also treated us to a batch of his original-recipe clam chowder.
Lackner uses purple varnish clams, an invasive species, with a harvest limit of 72. Clamming is still good at the Oregon coast, so grab your shovel and head to your favorite bay — these Asian clams have invaded just about every one of them. Best of all, the clams are easy enough for a 4-year-old to dig. Don’t forget to purchase a $10 Oregon state shellfish license on your way.
Once they’re cleaned, the clams are added to Lackner’s combination of clam roux and béchamel (white) sauce and topped with his secret ingredient. The recipe and video walk you through all the steps as well as that secret ingredient.
Crab And Clam Clinic Clam Chowder
Prep: 1 hour 15 minutes (cleaning clams can take an additional 90 minutes, on average) | Average yield: 24 cups
- 1 or 2 limits of clams, depending on the yield by size and species
- 1 medium onion (preferably Walla Walla sweet), chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 8 medium or 6 large white rose potatoes, peeled and quarters*
- 1 46-ounce can of clam stock
- 1 stick of unsalted butter (1 additional stick reserved)
- 1 cup of flour (1 additional cup reserved)
- 1 quart of half-and-half, room temperature or warmed on the stovetop
- 3 tablespoons of rendered bacon fat (optional)
- Ground nutmeg
- Salt and pepper
*Lackner says white rose potatoes have the best flavor for clam chowder. Use Yukon gold or red rose when white rose potatoes are unavailable.
1. Clean the clams by blanching them in boiling water for up to 15 seconds. Most of the clam shells will pop open. Discard any clams that do not open. Separate the clam meat from the shells. Separate the siphon tubes from the clam bodies. Remove the dark colored gills from the siphon tubes. Clean the siphon tubes by rinsing them in cold running water prior to storing them in a plastic bag.
2. Grasp and squeeze the clam’s body forcing out most of the visceral material. Use a paring knife to remove any of the remaining visceral material from the clam body. Once the clams are cleaned and washed, store the clams in sealed plastic bags or in covered bowls for immediate use or vacuum pack the clams and freeze them for future use. Reserve any clam juice that seeps into the plastic bags or in the covered bowl until needed.
3. If you’re using purple varnish clams, you can skip this step. If you’re using razor clams, purée the clam bodies and digger feet and refrigerate to be added later.
4. Peel and dice the onion into medium pieces and set aside.
5. Crush the peeled garlic and set aside.
6. Sauté the onions and garlic in a large skillet with bacon fat or a half-stick of melted butter. When the onions are nearly cooked through, add the garlic. Do not allow the garlic to brown. Remove from the skillet and set aside. Retain bacon fat or butter in the skillet.
7. Peel and quarter the potatoes and cut into bite-size pieces. Place in a 16-quart stock pot and add clam stock with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. The large cans of clam stock can be purchased at Cash and Carry wholesale grocery chain stores.
8. Parboil the potatoes slowly until they are nearly cooked through. Add the mixture of chopped clams to the nearly cooked potatoes. Continue parboiling the potatoes and clam mixture until the clams are cooked through.
9. Pour the potatoes, cooked clams and the clam juice into a colander reserving the clam stock in a bowl until needed. Return the potatoes to the stock pot and add the sautéed garlic and onions.
10. Using the large skillet containing the bacon fat or butter, make a roux by melting equal parts of butter 1 stick to 1 cup of flour. Heat the butter and bacon fat over a medium heat and stir in the flour until the mixture thickens forming a paste. Add more flour or butter if needed to achieve a crème roux. Sauté the roux, stirring constantly with a whisk for several minutes to eliminate the pasty taste of the flour. Increase to high heat while slowly adding a quart of room-temperature half and half. Whisk constantly until the roux thickens; then gradually add the clam stock until the entire mixture thickens. Remove the pot from the burner when the mixture reaches the boiling point and begins to bubble.
11. Combine the roux with the onions, potatoes and clam mixture in the stock pot under a low to medium-low heat. Stir constantly with a whisk or large spoon to prevent the chowder from sticking to the bottom of the stock pot. Add the purple varnish clams from step 2 or the clam mixture from step 3 to the clam chowder base. Continue stirring until the chowder begins to bubble. Remove from the burner uncovered and allow to stand for 10 to 15 minutes.
12. Dish the chowder to soup bowls. Add a pat of butter. Salt and pepper to taste. Grate with freshly ground nutmeg (the secret ingredient!) and garnish with basil and oyster crackers.