Friday, August 30, 2019

Tripping the Light Clam Chowder

What’s cooking? Rhode Island Clam Chowder





One of the few soups I associate with summer is clam chowder. That’s because the clams and other seafood I find at my favorite farmers’ market are so fresh and sweet tasting, the experience spoils me for the rest of the year. So I feast all summer on fresh clams and scallops, as well as the tuna, flounder, fluke, etc. I can get at that stand. Once I’m back in Texas, I focus on salmon, Gulf shrimp, and the other seafood from my local grocer. But I only buy clams and scallops from Jimmy.



The Kitchen Goddess loves a food expert, and Jim LaPrete, owner of Shore Catch, is the most knowledgeable guy I’ve met when it comes to seafood. He sells his fish fresh from the dock on Long Beach Island on the Jersey shore, and in his words, “The fish was swimming in the ocean two days before I get it to market.” Which means they stay fresh for way longer than whatever you get at a grocery store. (I can keep clams and scallops unfrozen – but in a cold part of the fridge – for a week, with no off effects.) He is ably assisted by Cindy, who is kind enough to store my order in the giant freezer so that I can go off to coffee without worrying about whether my fish will stay cold enough. A Kitchen Goddess’s BFF.

Clockwise from top left: swordfish, cod, squid, scallops.

Jimmy's clams and oysters. Yum!

Kitchen Goddess note about safety: My hubby occasionally worries about buying shellfish in the months without an “R.” That was the conventional wisdom in the days before rampant refrigeration and commercial fishing. Today, this warning applies only to oysters and shellfish you might harvest on your own. On modern commercial fishing boats, refrigeration is de rigeur; and commercial oyster farms employ scientific methods to control spawning, so that commercially sold oysters stay safe year-round.

In years past, the Kitchen Goddess has made all manner of seafood chowders. Tomatoey Beach Chowder made with canned chopped clams, chunky Salmon Chowder, and creamy Clam and Corn Chowder. This summer, she learned of a new variation, one that originated along the southern coast of Rhode Island, where it’s a local delicacy. What makes it different? No tomatoes, no cream. Just the clams, a few veggies, and a simple broth with some wine. As you know, the Goddess loves adding wine to a soup.

According to wikipedia, the term “chowder” has no clear etymology. One possible source is the French word chaudron, for “cauldron,” which was the type of cooking or heating vessel in which the first chowders were probably made. From the cauldrons of coastal France, the dish migrated to kitchens across the English Channel in Cornwall, and eventually to the U.S., where it has become ubiquitous in almost every coastal area east or west.

Writing about this version of chowder, Sam Sifton of The New York Times said, “Eating Rhode Island clam chowder recalls the feeling of pulling into Block Island after a long day at sea, tired and scented with salt spray.” The Kitchen Goddess has been to gorgeously rugged Block Island, and so can testify to the windy, salty atmosphere; but she’s not a boat person, so that “long day at sea” is not a familiar sensation. On the other hand, the KG will say that this light, clear-broth chowder seems like the truest version of the dish. It’s the seafood-lover’s clam chowder.



Rhode Island Clam Chowder

Adapted from Daniel Gritzer of Serious Eats (seriouseats.com)

Serves 4.

Ingredients

2 pounds live littleneck clams*
Kosher salt
3 thick-cut slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 ounces)
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 medium carrots, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 stalks celery, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups broth, to include one of these:
– 8 ounces bottled clam broth + 3 cups water + 2 teaspoons Knorr chicken bouillon powder, OR
– 8 ounces bottled clam broth + 3 cups good quality store-bought chicken stock, OR
– 4 cups water + 3 teaspoons Knorr chicken bouillon powder, OR
– 4 cups good quality store-bought chicken stock
2 medium sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 bay leaf
12 ounces small red potatoes, quartered, or medium-sized fingerling potatoes, quartered
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, choppped


*The Kitchen Goddess prefers littlenecks because they’re more tender, but it’s always acceptable to use cherrystone clams instead of littlenecks. Keep in mind that cherrystones are larger, so you need fewer, but they’ll take a bit more time to cook. You may want to roughly chop the cooked cherrystones before adding them to the finished soup. If you can’t get fresh clams in either size, try whole canned clams. Recommended brands include Bar Harbor, Cento, and Chicken of the Sea. Two cans should do it for this recipe. If you use canned clams, use bottled clam broth for at least half the broth.

Directions

Scrub the clams well under running water and place them in a large bowl with cold, salty water to cover for 20-30 minutes. After soaking the clams, lift them by hand out of the water – in order to avoid the sand which will likely have accumulated in the bottom of the bowl – and rinse. (See below for more elaborate instructions on buying/storing/preparing your clams.) Discard soaking water.


Add the olive oil to a large stew pot with the chopped bacon and cook the bacon over medium-high heat until crisp, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, about 6 minutes.

Stir in the wine, and bring it to a simmer, cooking about 4 minutes, or until any alcohol smell has cooked off. Add the stock mixture, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf and bring to a simmer.

Gently ladle the clams into the simmering broth. Cover and return the broth to a simmer. Cook until the clams begin to open, about 5 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the clams to a large heatproof (glass, ceramic, or stainless) bowl once most of the clams have opened. (You can leave ones that haven’t opened in the broth a bit longer, to see if they’ll open, but do not use any that stay closed after 6-7 minutes. Cover the bowl while you finish the soup.



Add the potatoes to the broth and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. If you want, you may use this time to remove the clam meat from the shells and discard the shells. (The Kitchen Goddess doesn’t do that part – she likes the look of the shells in the serving bowl as well as that Popeye the Sailor feel she gets from scraping the clams out of the shells with her teeth. She’s funny that way.)

Serve the soup in bowls, along with the clams with/without shells. Garnish with parsley.

The Kitchen Goddess’s Guide to Buying/Storing Fresh Clams

Buy from a reputable seller. Best is to find someone who can tell you where the clams came from and when they were harvested. (By law, they have to be labeled when shipped out of state.)

Buy them alive. They should be closed, but if any are open slightly, give the shell a light tap; if the clam is still alive, it will shut immediately.

Store clams in a bowl with a damp towel or washcloth draped over them – in the coldest part of your fridge. NO water, NO plastic wrap – they need to breathe. Good fresh clams can keep this way in the coldest part of your fridge for 2-3 days. (I was told by a reputable fishmonger that they can keep fresh clams alive on ice for up to 2 weeks, but I’m not willing to try that for myself.)

Handle them properly. When you’re ready to cook them, scrub the outer shells under running water with a brush or plastic mesh scrubbing pad to remove residual sand. Then soak the clams in well-salted cold water for about 30 minutes – certainly less than an hour. This salt-water soak will encourage the clams to expel any sand inside. Then when you’re ready to add them to the pot, lift them out of the bowl using your hands to keep from disturbing the water, so that the sand the clams have expelled will remain in the bottom of the bowl.

Finally, don’t eat any clams that don’t open in the cooking process. Even in a restaurant.

KG Post Script: The KG is always finding little tidbits she wants to pass on. This time, it was in the final proofreading stage, so here goes... According to LEAFtv.com, clams  farm-raised or wild caught  are one of the best choices of seafood. (1) Among the sources of sea protein, clams have one of the lowest-known mercury levels. (2) Clams can be raised without polluting or damaging the environment, so they’re an ocean-friendly choice. And because clams are filter-feeders, they improve the quality of the water where they are farmed without compromising their quality.




Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Summer of Grandchildren

What’s cooking? Ham-Jam Sandwiches and Blueberry-Beaujolais Jam






It must be something in the water or the air, or maybe it’s just the age my friends and I have reached, but the bottom line is an explosion of grandchildren. Just this summer, my cousin and four of my friends have either become new grandmothers or have expanded their collections. Another friend has two of her three children bringing tiny people into the world this fall, and if I include last summer in the accounting, I can add a sister-in-law and three more friends into the club.

To the new Dee-Dees/Memaws/Nonas or whatever they’re calling themselves, I’ve passed along a copy of Anna Quindlen’s recently released book of essays, Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting (Random House 2019). As a writer, Quindlen has long been a favorite of mine, and this collection of inspiring thoughts has not disappointed me.

When that first grandchild arrived, I had only one issue: what will she call me? It will not surprise you that on this subject, I have fairly strong feelings. Many of my friends and family say they’ll let the little darlings come up with something on their own. And many of the resulting monikers are admittedly darling. (My brother’s children called their maternal grandfather “Honey” because that’s what they heard his wife call him.) I imagine that’s how my own grandmothers – “Mamo” and “Gam” – got their nicknames, as mishmashed versions of “Grandmother.”

But I prefer not to leave these things to chance. How do I know it’ll be something I like? And how will their mothers and fathers refer to me with the children if I don’t already have a name? These questions haunted me. It’s probably also the influence of my mother, who, once I became an adult, complained that she was tired of being “Mama,” and said my brother and I should call her something with more flair, like “Mumzy.” Which is what I called her ever after and what my children called her.

So I tested quite a few handles on my own before arriving at “Lita.” It’s short for “abuelita,” which in Spanish is an affectionate term for “grandmother.” Of course, my grandchildren couldn’t pronounce it early – a fact that my husband, who’s in the “whatever” camp, was kind enough to point out – but I was happy to be “Ita” until they could manage the “L.” I suggested they call him “Grumpy,” but he wouldn’t go along.

And now the mints I carry for them in my purse are known as “Lita mints,” and the cookies I send on Halloween, Christmas, etc. are “Lita cookies.” So everyone is happy.

* * *

One of my grandchildren’s favorite lunches is PB&J. And a few adults I know will occasionally indulge themselves in that. Now you can have the grown-up version of PB&J: the Ham-Jam Sandwich.

I spotted it in a recent issue of Food & Wine Magazine, and couldn’t wait to make it. Both the sandwich and the jam are from genius chef Gabriel Rucker, a two-time James Beard Award winner, a 2007 Food & Wine Best New Chef, and co-owner of Le Pigeon, Little Bird Bistro, and Canard in Portland, Oregon.

As in the classic PB&J, this sandwich is a perfect symphony of flavors – the high notes of sweet blueberry jam, the smoky, meaty low notes of the salty prosciutto, and the first two mellowed out with the cool creaminess of the goat cheese/butter combo. A truly sophisticated take on a truly simple treat. And you can play with the combo even more: serve thin slices as hors d’oeuvres, or pile the ingredients on crostini (goat cheese butter on bottom, prosciutto on next, dollop of jam on top).

I’ve included the recipe for the Blueberry-Beaujolais Jam because that’s what Chef Rucker uses; so, of course, that’s what the Kitchen Goddess used. But you can substitute whatever good blueberry jam you like best. I will say that if you aren’t averse to jam-making, this one is outstanding (note the full bottle of wine in the mix). If you don’t want to end up with 7 jars of the stuff, just cut the recipe in half and drink half of the wine.

Chef Rucker designed these sandwiches to be part of a summer picnic. The Kitchen Goddess served them to her prince, with a salad, for a light summer dinner, and he was mighty pleased.


Ham-Jam Sandwiches

Adapted from Chef Gabriel Rucker in Food & Wine, July 2019.

Serves: 4

Ingredients

3 ounces goat cheese, softened
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) of unsalted butter, softened
1 20-inch, good-quality baguette
5-6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
⅓-½ cup Blueberry-Beaujolais Jam (or any high-quality store-bought blueberry jam)

Directions

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the goat cheese and butter until the mixture is smooth. (You can make this mixture earlier in the day, and refrigerate it; but be sure to set it out for at least a half-hour, to bring it to room temperature, before assembling the sandwiches. Alternatively, you can leave it out, covered, for up to 2 hours before serving.)



Slice the bread in half lengthwise, and spread the jam liberally on one side. On the other side, spread the goat cheese butter and drape the ribbons of prosciutto on top. Season with a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper if you like. Fold the baguette halves together and cut into even pieces to serve.





This jam is wonderfully fruity without being overly sweet. The Gamay-based wine adds a bright acidity to the fat, ripe summer blueberries. This sweet-tart jam also makes a fun addition to a cheese and charcuterie board.


Blueberry-Beaujolais Jam

Adapted from Chef Gabriel Rucker in Food & Wine, July 2019.

Yield: Makes 7 cups



Ingredients

1 (750-milliliter) bottle of Beaujolais wine
6 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
8 cups fresh blueberries (about 2½ pounds)
5 tablespoons (or 1 packet) powdered fruit pectin (I used RealFruit Classic Pectin)














Kitchen Goddess note on pectin: Pectin is a substance – a polysaccharide, if you must know, but the KG’s mind is already swimming with this tiny walk past a chemistry book – whose principal use is as a gelling agent, thickening agent, and stabilizer in food. Pears, apples, guavas, quince, plums, gooseberries, and citrus skins contain large amounts of pectin, though in declining levels as the fruit ripens. So if you’re making jam or jelly from any of these fruits, you don’t need to add pectin to get the mixture to gel.


Blueberries, on the other hand, have almost no pectin, so you must add commercial pectin to get your jam to set. (The tiny amount of zest in this recipe won’t do the trick.) Pectin is sold in liquid and powdered form, but they’re not exactly interchangeable, so if you’re making this jam, get some powdered pectin. I bought a plastic tub of it; it also comes in packets that weigh 1.6 ounces if you buy Ball RealFruit, or 1.75 ounces if you buy Sure-Jell. I don’t think the difference in weight can make a real difference in your jam. If you buy the tub, use 5 tablespoons, which is somewhere in between.






Directions

Using a large French oven (mine was a 5-quart Le Creuset) over medium-high heat, bring the wine, sugar, lemon zest, and cardamom to a boil. Maintain a low boil, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon for about 30 minutes. The mixture should reduce by about half.

Add the blueberries, and return the mixture to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries begin to burst, which will take 5-7 minutes. Stash a saucer or other small plate in your freezer, for testing the jam. Then stir the pectin into the mix and continue to cook, stirring often, for 20-25 minutes, at which point the jam should be thick and syrupy. When you think it’s about done, turn off the heat.

Spoon a teaspoon of jam onto the plate from the freezer and let it sit for a couple of minutes. Gently prod the puddle of jam with your finger. If you can see a sort of wrinkled skin on the puddle, and the jam on the plate seems to be no longer runny, it should be done. If not, return the pot of jam to a boil for a few more minutes.




Once the jam is done, add the lemon juice and move the pan off the burner.

Option 1: If you aren’t planning to preserve the jam, let it cool for about an hour, until it reaches room temperature. Ladle the jam into jars or other airtight containers and chill at least overnight.

Option 2: If you are planning to preserve the jam, don’t bother to let it cool. Just load it into your prepared jars and process it. If you don’t know processing for preserves, check out my link HERE. The best thing about preserving jams and chutneys and jellies and whatever is that they will last for months – well over a year, in fact, without refrigeration. It’s what the Kitchen Goddess gives her friends for Christmas or hostess gifts or just about any occasion.