Sunday, September 27, 2009

Recipe: New England Clam and Scallop Chowder

Annually there's a big clam chowder festival a short drive from my house in Newport, Rhode Island. For a stretch there I attended every year. It was a lot of fun and it was interesting to see how different restaurants and organizations approached making what they considered a good chowder. There were New England, Manhattan, Bahamian and Seafood styles as well as a few others including a pretty good quahog chili one year.

They offered different categories to compete in, and in the seafood chowder contest one restaurant reigned supreme and that happened to be the restaurant I hung around at and eventually met my wife at. They made a great chowder, no, they made a phenomenal chowder! It was so good and they won this contest so often that eventually they were politely asked to retire from competition to give other establishments a fair shot at the prize.

Ah, what a great restaurant and chowder, but things change. That is why I am going to offer you a short lesson here on economics. The restaurant of which I speak is doing rather poorly these days and I don't think it will be around for long. I'd like to explain why.
You see each restaurant has a geographical location that it serves. This means that on the average you can count on a certain number of people coming into it from a given distance. They call this your "customer base". If the restaurant is doing well and you decide that you want to open another one, you have to open the new one outside the territory of the first. Two good restaurants owned by one entity in one area don't double the custom base, they divide it. Now a restaurant that used to pull in $30,000 on a Friday night divides that lucrative customer base in half (more or less). So in effect you have doubled your cost but not your profits.

Worse yet, suppose you're not clever enough to catch on before the slump begins to show? What do you think you do? Well I guess you open a third and then a fourth restaurant in the same geographical area as the first popular one, because that is what they did. Guess what? The customer base that didn't double when you opened the second restaurant doesn't multiply again. So now you've divided your customer base by four! Your biggest competition becomes YOU and even the areas that don't overlap between the restaurants cannot generate enough new customers or income to cover that kind of expense! Never mind the other new restaurants that are opening around you that you don't own!

This is what happened to my beloved bar and restaurant. It wasn't long after all this that it took on the desperate feel and vibe of one of those places we've all been to: The "Doomed Eatery". They try anything, changing the menu, coupons, anything! They're cutting corners and missing details to save money but it's all moot, the slide has started and they're on their way out.

Some day soon, if a couple of friends can keep a promise, I am going to have that award winning seafood recipe and I'll put it in this cookbook for you. By then I think that restaurant will sadly be gone. That recipe could have saved it, if the owner had put his money and efforts into packing and marketing that seafood chowder to the masses out beyond his regular customer base. Instead they spent all that money and time to do nothing but compete against themselves.

Bummahs huh?

New England Clam & Scallop Chowder

24 ozs Clam juice
1 lb. of potatoes (Russet or Yukon Gold) cubed small
2 Tbs sweet butter
Pork fat back (piece about the size of a pack of gum)
2 cups of finely chopped onions
1-1/4 cups of celery (chopped fine)
2 cloves of garlic (chopped fine)
1 large bay leaf
1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
2.5 lbs of chopped local clams (strain from juice, save juice)
1 lb. bay scallops (strain from juice, save juice)
1-1/4 cups of Half and Half
1 tsp hot sauce
1/2 tsp Saffron threads (mince or crush into a powder after measuring)
Salt and pepper to taste

Add the clam juice and the potatoes to a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until potatoes are just tender. Remove from heat.

In a larger heavy pot, melt the butter and add the fat back and cook until the fat back begins to brown.

Add the onions, celery, garlic and the bay leaf and sauté until the vegetables begin to soften. Slowly add the flour, mixing thoroughly. Things will begin to thicken and paste up. Be careful not to let the flour burn.

Stirring quickly and constantly, slowly add the reserved clam and scallop juice to the vegetable and flour mixture. You're looking for a smooth mix.

Now, add the clam juice and potato mixture. Then add the clams and the scallops, the half and half, hot pepper sauce and the saffron. Simmer chowder for 10-20 minutes to blend flavor. Stir frequently, testing often to adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Serve hot with clam cake/fritters. Always better the second and third day.

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