Dig Deep For The Best Clam Chowder and Stuffed Clams

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Clam digging is a tradition in my family. I grew up on the water, and had my own boat shortly after my first bicycle. Itís an activity that not only yields fantastic fresh ingredients for cooking, but a family activity that everyone enjoys.

Itís one thing to buy fresh fish; itís another to catch your food yourself. Heading out of the marina on the coast of North Carolina, weíre in search of fresh clams for dinner.

Itís a beautiful day traveling on the water. The salt spray, clean ocean smell, and friendly fellow boaters waving as they pass make this a tranquil experience. The short trip in our small family boat is successful when we find a private spot on a sand-bar that seems untouched.

Searching for fresh clams can be meditative and addictive at the same time. Using a rake or pitch-fork with widely spaced tines, you scrape along the surface of the sand hoping to feel something hard beneath.

When I feel the rake vibrate from its clam collision, I reach down and rinse the mud off a beautiful quahog clam. Striped with grey, white, and gun metal blue, itís a sight that always brings me back to similar outings of my childhood.

Weíve found our sweet spot, and are quickly gathering tomorrowís chowder ingredients with each time the rake touches the sand. By the end of the afternoon, weíve gathered 133 clams that flow over the top of our bucket.

Shucking clams is easy for me. Iíve been doing it since my hands were big enough to hold the clam, it seems. That and Iíve worked in seafood restaurants where ALL I did was open clams.

So, Iím a professional, and please try this at home. The bucket of 133 clams that I returned from our clam digging trip with are waiting to be opened, but they wonít have to wait long.

I have a special tool for the job, and my clam knife is one of my most prized kitchen implements. The clams are much easier to open if they are cold, so Iíve kept them chilled on ice over night.

The key to shucking clams correctly is to approach it from the correct side of the clam. The mollusk is not perfectly round, so one side has a more obvious opportunity to place my knife between the shells. There is a heart-shaped mark near the hinge, and that side is where I start.

I always wear a glove to protect one hand because the shells can be sharp, plus the pressure of squeezing the knife between the shells can start to hurt an icy clam hand.

Rather than trying to force the knife into the clam as if chopping it half, the correct technique is to place the knife at the correct point and squeeze the blade of the knife between the shells.

The clam has two muscles that hold the two shells together. My goal is to cut both muscles without slicing the body of the clam in half. Once I can feel the knife sever the first muscle, Iíll withdraw it slightly, run along the inside of the shell, and cut the opposite muscle which opens the clam.

I always reserve the natural broth that comes out of the clams, strain it through cheesecloth and use it for future soups and sauces. The salty fresh ocean flavor of real clam broth brings brightness to many seafood preparations in the kitchen.

Since I do have so much experience shucking clams, Iíll brag that I opened 133 clams in under 24 minutes. Thatís 10.8 seconds per clam, and I was just coasting. I must be getting slower than when I was a young clam shucker.

Stuffed clams are one of those items that I can never order in a restaurant because I make them so much better myself. Iíve too often been disappointed with flavorless preparations that are hard to find an actual piece of clam in.

The best baked clams are the ones that taste like fresh clams, not bread crumbs. So Iíve simplified my recipe down to only 5 ingredients. The most important ingredient is, of course, the fresh clams that I chop quickly in my food processor. Then, with a simple sautť of butter, garlic, parmesan cheese, and parsley, theyíre ready for portioning.

This stuffed clam recipe is just like any other stuffing youíd prepare for a turkey; you can choose to add onions, celery, carrots, shallots, or any other aromatic vegetable you choose. I find that keeping the initial list of ingredients in the sautť to very few allows the flavor of the clam to come through.

Sometimes I use garlic. Sometimes I decide to include onions in my clams. Whatever I decide, I try not to use too many bread crumbs or fillers to keep the clam ratio high.

With the emptied and rinsed half-shells arranged on a baking sheet, I use one of the many sizes of portion scoops in my kitchen to add the stuffing to the shells. Then, they can be baked immediately or placed in the freezer for future enjoyment.

Correct portioning is important because I want all the clams to cook the same amount for the same time in the oven. If one clam has more stuffing than another, that one may be burned before the larger portion is fully cooked. Proper portioning prevents poor performance.

My stuffed clams are the best because from 133 raw clams, Iíll make only 50 stuffed baked clams. That means almost 3 clams in each prepared half-shell. Now, thatís some clam flavor!

I make the best clam chowder. My clam soup will be a slap in the face if you pronounce it ďChowdaaĒ. Itís red, savory, and chocked with vegetables.

You can ďpaaak your caaaa in Havaaaad yaaaadĒ and get yourself the type of soup you crave, but when you step into my kitchen, youíll find my clam soup has a bright red color. Itís full of fresh clams, tomatoes, and lots of vegetables, but no milk, no butter, no flour.

The difference between a New England white chowdaa and my Long Island red clam soup is as pronounced as the difference between a Red Sox and Yankees fan. They will never agree, they will never follow the same path. They just come from different places.

While white chowdaa has the goal of thickening milk with fat and flour to create a roux, red chowder is a much easier broth-based soup that needs no thickening agent. That means that my Long Island clam chowder has less fat, is more nutritious because of the vegetables, and just tastes better to me.

The other reason I love my type of soup is that you really donít need a recipe. The basic method is simple, just combine all the ingredients. With a thickened Chowdaa, you have to be sure you know the correct proportions to make roux. Thatís a little harder to do.

The best clam chowder is my Long Island clam soup. Itís quick and easy to prepare and contains the ingredients I desire. What? You godda problum wit dat?

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