Today’s recipe is a little riff on a family favorite. I, like most people who grew up on the East Coast of Canada, grew up eating fish and seafood chowder. My grandmother always made a huge pot whenever and wherever the entire family congregated. Naturally, the chowder was always accompanied by a fresh batch of tea biscuits. I often say that this combo would be my preferred last meal. It is perfect, so why mess with it? Well, because I can’t help it. It’s not in my nature to leave well enough alone. Today’s Miso Clam Chowder is not an improvement of a childhood favorite because you can’t improve upon perfection. This is not an attempt to elevate, this is playtime. Delicious playtime, I might add.
This Miso Clam Chowder is not my first riff on the classic and it’s likely not the last. I know a lot of people prefer to keep their favorite childhood dishes exactly as they were, but I’m not one of them. Now, of course, there are limits to what you can change. How many ingredients can be swapped before the dish ceases to be its namesake? Well, when it comes to seafood chowder of any kind, the most indispensable ingredient is evaporated milk. Yes, evaporated milk. I know it’s not terribly “foodie” of me.
In every single batch of fish, oyster, or seafood chowder my grandmother made, there was a can of evaporated milk. Without fail, always and forever. I know there are countless cans of soup out there that loudly exclaim from their labels that they are made “with real cream”. I know that’s what most people look for in a chowder but I implore you to keep an open mind because evaporated milk brings this addictive but not saccharine sweetness to everything it touches. Plus, it doesn’t curdle, which is a good thing if you have overzealous burners like I do.
This recipe kicks off with its stars – the clams. Preparing clams takes a little time upfront, but they cook in less than 10 minutes, so it’s hard to be mad at them. To prep clams for eating all you have to do is plunk them in a large bowl. Add a quart of cold water and a 1/4 cup of kosher salt. Leave the clams to soak for 1 hour. This will encourage the clams to purge any sand and/or grit.
While the clams are self-cleaning, you can get going with the rest of the soup. Now, there is a bit of chopping ahead but luckily no garlic to mince. Mincing garlic is my least favorite kitchen activity. Well, that and loading the dishwasher but I digress. Dice an onion, chop a few carrots and stalks of celery and quarter a bunch of baby potatoes. And that’s it! Not the worst prep in the world but not the best either.
Now, grab a large pot and I do mean a large pot, clam shells take up a fair amount of real estate. Add 3 tablespoons of butter to the pot and melt over medium heat. Once the butter is foamy, add the onion and a sprinkling of salt. The salt will encourage the onion to release its juices, which is great for the overall flavor of the soup. But as far as salt goes, we’re going to leave it here. The miso we’re going to add later will bring a lot of umami, so it pays to be conservative with the salt.
Once the onions are translucent, add the carrots and celery and sauté until softened. Deglaze the pan with a little white wine or dry vermouth. Stir in the potatoes and toss them in all that buttery, oniony goodness before pouring in some stock and a bottle of clam juice. Bring everything up to a boil and reduce it to a simmer. Add a couple of bay leaves and let the soup cook until the potatoes are very tender. This should take about 20 minutes.
While the soup is simmering, check in on your clams. They should be done soaking. Drain the clams and give them a good scrub with a potato scrubber or another firm bristled brush. Now go through them clam by clam and select any that appear to be open. Give them open clams a good rap on the counter and if they are safe to eat they should, well, clam right up. If they don’t, discard the clam – it’s no longer alive and kicking and it can make you sick. Once your clams are sorted, they are ready to be cooked.
When your potatoes are tender, add the miso and the all-important evaporated milk. Stir until the miso fully dissolves into the soup. If there are a few residual lumps, don’t worry, we’re going to simmer the soup for another 10 minutes once the clams get in there and that should take care of them. Now its time to, you guessed it, pop the clams into the soup. Bring the soup up to a rapid simmer and add the clams. Cover and let steam for about 7-10 minutes. Take the lid off of the soup and the clams should have popped open. If you do encounter any clams that didn’t open, discard them.
Now all that remains is to serve the Miso Clam Chowder. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish them with sesame oil, furikake, and a sprinkling of finely chopped celery leaves and that’s it. Serve immediately with a hunk of crusty bread or, in keeping with the classic, tea biscuits.
Miso Clam Chowder
- 1 large heavy bottom pot
- 907g (2lbs) littleneck or manilla clams
- 4 cups cold water
- ¼ cup salt
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 yellow onion diced
- 3 carrots peeled and chopped
- 3 stalks celery chopped
- ½ cup dry vermouth **
- 350g (12oz) baby red potatoes quartered
- 3 cups seafood stock ***
- 1 (236 ml, 8 fl oz) bottle clam juice
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tbsp white miso
- 2 (354ml, 12 fl oz) cans evaporated milk
- sesame oil for drizzling
- furikake for sprinkling
- celery leaves finely chopped, for sprinkling
- Place the clams in a large bowl and cover them with the water. Add the salt and give everything a swish. Let sit for 1 hour.907g (2lbs) littleneck or manilla clams, 4 cups cold water, ¼ cup salt
- While the clams are soaking, place the butter in a large heavy bottom pot. Melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt once the butter is foamy. Sauté over medium-low until the onion is translucent.3 tbsp unsalted butter, 1 yellow onion
- Add the celery and carrots to the pot and sauté until softened. Deglaze the pot with the dry vermouth and stir in the potatoes. Toss to coat.3 carrots, 3 stalks celery, ½ cup dry vermouth **, 350g (12oz) baby red potatoes
- Pour in the stock and clam juice and bring the mixture up to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add the bay leaves. Simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the potatoes are very tender.3 cups seafood stock ***, 1 (236 ml, 8 fl oz) bottle clam juice, 2 bay leaves
- While the soup is simmering, check on the clams. Drain the clams and remove any that appear open. Rap each open clam on the counter, this should prompt the clam to shut. If it doesn't, discard the clam. Set the clams aside.
- When the potatoes are tender, add the miso to the pot. Stir until the paste dissolves. Add the evaporated milk and bring the chowder back up to a rapid simmer. Add the clams and cover. Let cook for 7-10 minutes or until all the clam shells have opened.2 tbsp white miso, 2 (354ml, 12 fl oz) cans evaporated milk
- Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the sesame oil, furikake, and celery leaves. Serve immediately.sesame oil, furikake, celery leaves