These are the meals that I have cooked for my family during the past five years—recreated in recipe form. We already ate it and for the most part, enjoyed it. I hope you will too.
Last year, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I slammed some insanely bitter percolator coffee, did a few lunges with my kiddo, and set forth to brave the crowds at the grocery store. As I worked through the shopping list on my phone, I gave an herb tutorial to a young couple making roasted root veggies and played rock-paper-scissors with a lady for the last loaf of Acme bread on the shelf. Grocery shopping during the holidays is like 4am last call at the clubs—equal parts confusion and desperation. I gotta admit, I love the chaos.
Of course, that was back when we could freely travel; my family was in the Bay Area for our annual in-law visit. My wife's 90-plus-year-old grandma made a special trip to have a family dinner on Black Friday since so many of us were with other branches of family for the official turkey day. When I volunteered to cook for "poh poh," my mother-in-law suggested I make a bowl of hearty clam chowder, a favorite that grandma developed over years visiting Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. I shot a glance at my wife for approval. "Don't mess it up," she said. LOL OOOOOOK WIFE NO PRESSURE.
I already planned to make a huge big batch of wild mushroom stuffing (chef Tom Douglas's King Boletus Stuffing recipe is a tradition in our family) that week. When writing the day’s prep list on a big sheet of parchment paper taped to the fridge, I noticed a surprising (but not surprising) overlap in ingredients. Taking a page from my previous life as a catering cook, I merged both recipes together and organized my to-do list by ingredient and got to work. I diced onions the same size and minced a whole mess of garlic. My son and I tore through the sourdough bread scrap with our hands for croutons. I sliced celery stalks for the stuffing, but kept their delicate leaves for chowder garnish. When working on a menu of two or more recipes, remember where your recipes intersect and cut once, but use twice.
I love using clams in the shell. (Aside from my emergency can of Campbell'sChunky or a bowl of Ivar’s chowder from a WSDOT ferry.) I like how my son audibly sips the soup out of’em and I love hearing the“claaaaaang” they make in our communal discard bowl. Grandma loved the chowder, by the way. I received a gentle pat on my face and my son gotakiss on the cheek. Food memories are the best.
Grandma's Black Friday Clam Chowder
Active Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 3 hours, plus a chill in the fridge overnight
Serves: 5 adults and a hungry toddler
- 6 OZ bacon ends (cheaper than regular rashers), chopped into rough quarter-inch pieces
- 1 LARGE yellow onion, small dice
- ½ BULB fennel, small dice
- 3 celery stalks, small dice, the center leaves saved for garnish
- ½ shallot, minced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ TBSP Kosher salt
- ½ TBSP freshly cracked pepper
- ¼ CUP chardonnay or dry white wine (I like Columbia Valley's L'Ecole No 41)
6 CUP water
- 1½ TSP instant dashi
- ¾ LB Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1/2" chunks3 large bay leaves
- ¾ CUP heavy cream
- 2 CANS chopped clams
- 1 LB manila clams
- A GRIP of soft herbs for garnish (any combo of dill, parsley, tarragon will do)
- Lemon wedges, deseeded and sliced into quarters
- ½ sourdough loaf
- ½ TBSP Kosher salt
- 1 TSP freshly cracked black pepper
- ½ CUP olive oil
- Render bacon until barely crispy and using a slotted spoon, scoop and set aside. Add fennel, onion, celery, salt, and pepper in bacon fat until barely tender. Add shallot and garlic and saute for another three minutes. Go ahead, taste the veggies. If they taste like "mmm...that's what I'm looking for in a soup," then move to the next step.
- Deglaze with chardonnay, scraping up the brown bits at the bottom of the pot and reduce liquid by half. Add Yukon golds, bay, rendered bacon, water, and instant dashi. Bring to a boil. Simmer until potatoes are tender. Cool entire batch overnight in the fridge. This allows you to strain the broth from the solids to thicken it without using a roux or a ton of cream.
- The next day, pour the broth into a large pot using a strainer; return separated veggies to the fridge. Reduce liquid by half over medium-high heat, about an hour. Add heavy cream and reduce again, another hour. Add veggies and canned clams to pot. From here, you can let it hang out on a low simmer until you're ready to serve.
- Prep your croutons: With a bread knife, cut bread crust off and hand to your son as a snack with chunks of cheese. Rip croutons into half-inch pieces—the more irregular they are, the more surface area. The more surface area, the more opportunity to be crispy. Toss with Kosher salt, black pepper, and half a cup of olive oil. Put on baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast at 400 degrees until “GBD” (golden brown and delicious), about 15–20 minutes.
- To serve, bring soup back up to a strong simmer over medium-high heat. Add manila clams and cover for eight minutes or until the shells have opened. Discard unopened shells.
- When serving a large group, let your family serve themselves. Five minutes before serving, place a stack of bowls in a warm oven for a few moments until they’re warm to the touch—it’s a nice gesture that your family will hopefully notice and appreciate. From there, they can add a squeeze of lemon, a handful of croutons, and pick up a precious bundle of mixed fennel fronds, dill, parsley, and celery heart leaves with chopsticks. Any packet of junk drawer hot sauce will do, but I’d prefer a few shakes of Ballard's own fruity Bonache habanero sauce.
If I'm craving chowder, I'll take a trip to Pike Place Market and order a bowl at Seatown with a glass of white wine and basket of fried shrimp and chips. Down the street, Pike Place Chowder has a memorable crab and oyster version that’s made with a base of chorizo that's spicy and heartwarming. If you're willing to take a semilong drive and spend a pleasant afternoon in Coupeville, Toby's Tavern has a Penn Cove Shellfish chowder with local mussels that pairs perfectly with a local kolsch and some pull tabs.