Rhode Island Plain Quahog Chowder

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Real Rhode Island chowder tastes of quahogs flavored with salt pork, onions, potatoes and thyme. The only liquids are quahog juice and water: no tomatoes, no milk, and no cream nor butter. Variations can include the addition of some milk or tomato, but always in a way that does not overwhelm the quahogs. The heart of plain chowder territory is from Jamestown over the bridge down to Narragansett and Galilee. If you do not want to deal with shucking the quahogs, take a trip to the small fishing village of Galilee and buy some fresh quahog meat ready for the chowder pot. Alternately, check at any Rhode Island fish market such as Anthony's in Middletown.

Ingredients

Yield 6 to 8 servings
1 pint quahog meat and liquor (usually about 18 to 24 quahogs)
1/4 pound salt pork, diced
Salt, if desired, to taste
6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/4-inch cubes
2 medium onions, diced
Thyme
Sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper when served

Directions

  1. Scrub quahogs and either open with knife over bowl or pail to catch liquor or steam over 2 cups of water in the steamer for about 10 minutes or until the shells open. As soon as the shells open, remove from heat immediately or the meat will get tough. Let cool. Remove the meat and discard shells. Reserve the quahog broth collected in the steamer and strain through double thickness of cheesecloth to remove sand and grit.
  2. With a heavy knife, chop quahog meat into pieces. Do not grind, process or blend. The meat should be chopped into pieces no larger than bite-size that will fit comfortably into a soup spoon when eaten.
  3. Wash the salt pork and cut into 1/4-inch dice. Heat in a heavy skillet until all of the fat is rendered, turning down the heat at the end, as the fat "husks" burn easily after the fat is drawn off. Lift the pork husks out of the skillet with a slotted spoon. Set aside.
  4. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a medium (4-quart) saucepan. Add salt, if desired, potatoes and pork husks. Cook the potatoes over medium heat until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes.
  5. Cook the onions in the rendered fat over medium-low heat until soft and glistening, about 10 minutes.
  6. When the potatoes are cooked, take the pan off the heat and add the quahogs and strained broth. Add the onions and rendered fat. Taste before seasoning.
  7. Return the chowder to a low boil for 3 to 4 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let the chowder rest for one hour.
    Simmer to reduce the liquid if necessary. (If there isn't time to let the chowder "sit," increase the
    quahogs and liquor to 1 1/2 pints.) Heat to serve.