Manhattan-Style Razor Clam Chowder

Growing up, soup usually meant opening a can of Campell’s. Their Manhattan clam chowder was my favorite. When I got out of the navy and began cooking for myself, Craig Claiborne’s Manhattan Clam Chowder was probably the second recipe I attempted – right after his chili recipe. The results were a revelation, and I never went back to Manhattan from a can.
Generous amounts of thyme, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, clams, carrots, celery, and a hint of heat from red pepper flakes keep this recipe close to the spirit of Claiborne’s, but with the addition of corn, green beans, and chard it strays from tradition, although I doubt the Portuguese immigrants who introduced this style of chowder would object. The smoked sea salt gives this soup a hearty warmth.

This recipe makes about 3 1/2 gallons.

  •  4 lbs razor clams chopped coarse
  • 1 cup clam juice (Razor clam juice is milky and will detract from the soup’s color if more is used.)
  • 6 pounds potatoes cut in 1/2 inch cubes
  • 3 1/2 pounds sweet onions, chopped fine
  • approx. 3 cups collard greens or chard, leaves cut away from the main stems and chopped into approx. 2″ squares
  • 1 lb. carrots, sliced
  • 1/2 lb. celery, chopped
  • 1/4 pound fresh green beans, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
  • 3 cups sweet corn
  • 1/3 pound bacon, broiled, drained and cut into small pieces
  • 2 tbsp dried thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • several cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 72 ounces (4.5 lbs) diced tomatoes with liquid (fresh or canned)
  • 12 ounces tomato paste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • olive oil
  • smoked sea salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp pepper flakes
  • olive oil
  • water

Chopping up all these ingredients is a bit of work. After that the cooking is pretty standard. This chowder freezes well and allows for many substitutions – including substituting a white-meated fish for the clams, or adding mussels, shrimp, squid, octopus, etc.

1. Mix tomato paste and thyme with approx. three cups of water and two tablespoons of olive oil and set aside

2. Cover the bottom of a large pot with olive oil and heat over medium-high. Add the carrots and cook for a minute stirring occasionally. Add the onions and cook for two minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium and add the celery, green beans and garlic, stirring occasionally for about three minutes.

3. Add the diced tomatoes, the tomato sauce mixture, the potatoes and remaining seasonings. Add enough water to cover the potatoes and simmer until soft. If the soup seems watery, add more tomato paste. Stir occasionally. Depending on the type of potato and size of cubes, this takes 20 to 50 minutes.

4. When the potatoes are of desired softness, stir in the chard or collard greens. Continue simmering for about 2 minutes.

5. Stir in the sweet corn, the clams and the clam juice. The corn will add considerable sweetness, as will razor clams. Give it a taste to see if it needs more salt, pepper, chili flakes or thyme.

Don’t overcook. As soon as the clams and corn are heated, the chowder is ready to serve. Garnish individual servings with a very thin slice of lemon, a few strips of nori, or grated parmesan cheese and serve with a hunk of crusty, fresh-baked bread.

(For more posts on razor clams, click on the tag “razor clams” in the upper left below the photo. Or click here for New England Razor Clam Chowder.)

Alaskan Clam Chowder

New England Style Clam Chowder garnished with a slice of lemon and salmon berry blossoms. All fruit blossoms are edible, and in addition to being beautiful, some are downright tasty.

These days, there seems to be a trend toward making New England Style Clam Chowders thicker and thicker. Unfortunately, to our taste, the thickness is achieved by adding lots of flour, resulting in a somewhat pasty if not downright bland bowl of soup. Our favorite chowders put clams and potatoes up front and emphasize flavor over thickness. We make both New England Style and Manhattan Style Clam Chowders in large pots, freezing the finished product in smaller containers and pulling them out on cold nights throughout the winter. While this is a great way to put to use all the razor clams we used to dig in Oregon and now dig in Alaska, it works well with other kinds of clams, too, as well as with canned clams such as the big, 51 ounce (3 pounds, 3 ounces) cans of SeaWatch chopped clams sold at Costco and other stores. The recipe is never the same twice. The one below is a recent version. One of the keys is to use not more than twice the potatoes, by weight, as clams.

Up here in bush Alaska, many of the communities are “dry” and I can’t use one of my favorite ingredients–sherry. If I could, I would add about a 1/4 cup of a quality dry sherry such as Dry Sack.

Ingredients: (We cook with dairy products from grass-fed cows, which research increasingly is showing is a significantly more healthful choice than dairy from cows fed on grain and processed feed.)

  • 3 pounds razor clams, chopped coarse (This is the weight of clams after they have been drained. But save and set aside their juice.)
  • clam juice you’ve set aside. The more, the better.
  • 4 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold or yellow potatoes. (These cook up creamier than than Russets)
  • 2 sweet onions, chopped coarse
  • 1/2 pound bacon, cut into small pieces
  • water (as needed to cover potatoes while cooking)
  • 4 cups milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 6 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon Italian seasoning (The Spice Hunter’s Italian blend is excellent)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (either black or rainbow)
  • 1 teaspoon dry tarragon, crushed (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
  • 5 – 7 very thin slices of lemon

1. Wash potatoes and remove any eyes, but do not remove the skins. Cut into ½ inch cubes and place in a large bowl. Set aside.

2. Fry the bacon pieces till tender. Do not crisp. Drain the grease and set aside.

3. In a large pot, add the olive oil and heat over medium-high. Add onions, stirring frequently for about five minutes until they begin to turn translucent. Add garlic and stir again.

4. Add flour and stir in thoroughly. Add two tablespoons of butter (or more olive oil) if necessary to completely mix in the flour.

5. Immediately add clam juice and milk. Stir.

6. Add potatoes, seasonings and salt and enough water to cover all. Slowly bring to a simmer and cook until potatoes become tender, stirring occasionally. About 45 – 60 minutes.

7. Add cream and lemon slices and return to just under a simmer or barely simmering.

8. Add the clams and the remaining butter and turn heat to low. On a propane stove, you may need a flame tamer. Continue cooking for 10 minutes.

Serve with a big hunk of toasted sourdough bread and a Chardonnay, a Pinot Gris, or a good ale.