Friday, October 17, 2008

J.J.'s recipe for clam chowder

For my bit on sustainable seafood for Bostonist, I tapped J.J. Gonson, who planned to contribute this clam chowder recipe to the Teach a Man to Fish project. I've edited it a bit: J.J.'s style of writing, especially when it comes to recipes, is wonderfully free-form, almost a stream-of-consciousness. It reminds me of the recipes in I Like Food, Food Tastes Good, a compendium of recipes from indie rockers like Death Cab and Nada Surf that I actually use quite often (Roots of Orchis gives a great recipe for sweet potato biscuits with vegan gravy). For example, Devendra Banhart explains his recipe for "Africanitas Ritas" (basically, fried bananas) thusly: "...add a little bit of cream!! And STIRRRRRR!!!!... SIR LAWRENCE OF ARABIA!... THEN, put it on the frying pan!!!! let it get GOLDEN!!!"

It's fitting that J.J.'s style should fit in with these quirky indie kids. Her sister is Claudia Gonson of the Magnetic Fields, and J.J. herself was a fixture in the Portland, Oregon rock scene for a while, where she wrote songs with Elliott Smith and met her husband, a member of the British band Cornershop ("everybody needs a bosom for a pillow..."). Now Gonson's a mom with two appropriately adorable indie kids of her own, and a personal chef who's been obsessed with organic and local food "before it was cool" (the favorite phrase of every Portlander I've ever met).

So, with that in mind, check her yummy-sounding recipe for clam chowder, made from scratch (as J.J.'s Yelp profile states, "no detail un-overthought"):

Here is my recipe for clam chowder, as I learned it at my mommy's knees in the tiny kitchen, overlooking the Wellfleet bay.

Depending on how many people you plan to feed, you can decide how much of each ingredient to use. For 4 servings, use approximately:

1 onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 clove of garlic
3 lbs of clams steamed in 1-2 cups of water
2 slices of bacon or 1T butter
4T butter
4T flour
3 cups milk + 1 cup of cream or 4 cups of milk
2 large, floury potatoes


1) Steam open clams and other shellfish and reserve liquid.

2) Remove clams from shells and set aside. If you use quahogs or razor or other large clams, cut into bite size bits.

3) Reduce the clam broth over a hot flame until it is reduced by half and quite concentrated (or use bottled clam broth).

4) Heat milk or a combination of milk and cream.

5) Either render small pieces of bacon and use the fat, or use butter, to saute diced celery, onion and garlic until fragrant.

6) Boil and dice potatoes.

7) Make a roux with a ratio of 1T of butter to 1T of flour for each cup of milk you will use, by sautéing flour in butter for a minute, stirring constantly.

8) Over low heat, add hot milk to the roux, a small amount at a time, stirring well to remove lumps. When the milk mixture begins to thicken, but is still quite runny, add all of the other ingredients, along with a bit of fresh thyme and salt and pepper to taste.

9) Bring the whole thing to just below a boil and cook for half an hour to allow flavors to marry. Do not boil or the soup can separate, or "break."

You can use this same recipe to make fish or corn chowder, or any combination, but if you use a very moist fish, like cod, do not use all of the clam broth as the chowder will be too watery!

Yum. So there you go. For the full Bostonist post with J.J.'s take on the Boston fish scene, click here.

(Photo credit: Luna Cruz, via Creative Commons license.)


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