One of the advantages of growing up in northern Wisconsin was being able to take your prom date to a good supper club and have a cup of clam chowder before the steak appeared. Although I discovered that I liked it, the chowder was first an act of rebellion: My mother did not make clam chowder.
Chowder was made with clams, and they were slimy things unlike those delicious bass, bluegills, bullheads, northerns, walleyes and trout that she cleaned and cooked for us hundreds of times.
She did, however, make lots of soups and stews that probably should have been called chowders. Chowders are thickened soups or stews usually made with milk or cream. Traditional clam chowder is thickened with crushed crackers or ship’s biscuit.
I’ve never eaten ship’s biscuit, but I have eaten stewed tomatoes thickened with crackers to the consistency of a chowder. Pretty tasty, especially if some green peppers and onion are simmered with the tomatoes.
There are vegetable chowders made with various combinations of corn, carrots, onions, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower. Over the years, Mom made versions of all of these. Some of them were pretty good.
Besides clams, there are chowders made with cod, salmon, crab, shrimp and chicken, most with onions for flavor and potatoes to help with the thickening. I haven’t found the recipe yet, but there is probably a Carnivore Chowder that omits all vegetables to emphasize the meat.
Here is a chowder that combines meat and vegetables. It is one of my favorites because it is so easy to make and also lets me virtuously declare that I ate mostly vegetables for dinner.
3 large or 4 medium white potatoes
1 1/8 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. dried marjoram
3 cups water
3/4 lb. pork sausage
1 small onion, about 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter. chopped
1 15 oz. can whole kernel corn
1 15 oz. can creamed corn
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup water
2 T flour
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Hot sauce (optional)
Peel and dice the potatoes into bite-sized pieces. You want about six cups of the diced potatoes. Peel and finely chop the onion. You should have about 3/4 cup.
Combine the potatoes, salt, marjoram, and water in a Dutch oven or soup pot. Boil until the potatoes begin to get tender. Remove the pot from the heat unless you are ready to assemble the chowder. Do not drain the potatoes; the flavored potato water is the base of the broth.
While the potatoes are boiling, cook the sausage over medium heat in a skillet, breaking the meat into smaller pieces with a spatula or wooden spoon. Add the chopped onion when the sausage is nearly done and continue cooking until the onion is translucent.
Do not brown the meat or onion. If there is more than a tablespoon of fat in the pan, drain off the excess, add the meat and onions to the potatoes and return the pot to the heat.
Stir in both cans of corn and the half and half. Mix the flour with the half cup of water and stir it into the soup. Add the pepper, stir and bring the chowder to a simmer and cook gently for three or four minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add some hot sauce or more pepper if you like. Serve with good bread and a salad.
NOTES: This recipe makes six generous servings. The chowder is excellent warmed up for lunch a day or two later.