02 October, 2008

On New England Clam Chowder

I don't know what the hell is going on here lately, but it has become increasingly hard to find a good bowl of New England clam chowder up here in New England. It seems like every time I order a bowl of clam chowder - from the fanciest restaurants to the steepest dives - I get a bowl of starchy white glue in which are suspended some potato chunks and a sprinkling of tiny clam-like bits.

And worse, there seems to be little variation in what's being ladled out under the misnomer "clam chowder." It is as though every lunchateria, chop house, diner, and restaurant in the Northeast is having their chowder shipped in from some kind of industrial production commissary in the rust belt.

I'm not even sure if some of these dining establishments even remember what New England clam chowder is supposed to be. At one place, my waitress looked at my barely-touched bowl as she was clearing dishes and asked me if I didn't like my chowder. "No," I replied, "It's very starchy."

"It's New England clam chowder. It's supposed to be white and thick."

I guess no one ever told her that the 'white' was supposed to be milk or cream and the 'thick' was supposed to be crackers added to taste by the person enjoying it (though a slightly thickened chowder is perfectly acceptable if it's done with a gentle hand.)

So you can imagine my surprise when I found a pretty damn good clam chowder in one of the places I had least expected: The refrigerated "ready food" area of my local Stop & Shop supermarket.

This stuff tastes almost as good as my own homemade chowder, which shouldn't be a big surprise: they use good, honest ingredients in it - clam broth, potatoes, clams, milk, cream., and even real butter. It's thickened slightly with a little flour but just enough to give it the familiar chowdery body. Hell, there's even a touch of salt pork in it like "the real thing." I was astonished that something this good was available in a plastic tub next to the deli in the supermarket - and was a store brand as well.

Stop & Shop is owned by Royal Ahold, the Netherlands company that operates supermarkets all over the world. Here in the States, they own Giant Food Stores in Carlisle PA, Giant Supermarkets, and Peapod in addition to Stop & Shop. If you live on the east coast of the US near any of those stores, chances are you'll find decent clam chowder in the prepared foods section there. Might be worth a try.


rich said...

You should try getting any kind of clam chowder at all over the pond here in Old England....

Michele said...

I know what you are saying about getting a good bowl of chowder. What bothers me just as much is the fact that I live at the shore and you can not get good seafood anywhere. What do I have to do...hire a boat and crew? If I see the words previously frozen describing the seafood at the markdet one more time I'm going to scream. Seriously we can throw stones into the Atlantic....why do you need to freeze it?

I'll check out the chowder at Stop & Shop this weekend. I had no idea that they made their own.

I loved the story about your Mom's Congo bars!! My mother did something similar with pancakes and plaster of paris that was stored in an old bisquick box. Here I thought we were the only family ever to make bricks in the kitchen.

Foodycat said...

I really want to try a proper clam chowder - I quite like the thick, pastey version!