I walked around the Knob and Russian Hill neighborhoods yesterday. Wait, scratch that. I freakin' mountain-climbed up and over the tallest, steepest hills in San Francisco yesterday, and have the blisters to prove it! I mean, look at this photo (courtesy of Pam's Public Gallery). On many streets, the cars HAVE to park at a 90 degree angle, or they will roll down! Whose brilliant idea was it to build a city on Monster Hills? (Reminder, this is the girl from Chicago, the city that's flatter than a pancake).
I was duly impressed.
In addition to checking out the parks and views of Russian Hill, I found the Albert Einstein stained glass window at Grace Cathedral, slurped down a thick chocolate shake at Ghirardelli's Square, and fought off tourists at Fisherman's Wharf (it was a long walk).
It's good to be unemployed.
Do visited San Francisco once as a kid, and has vivid memories of the Fisherman's Wharf. This makes sense: the place may look depressingly crowded and commercial to adults, like a tourist death-trap, but kids are entranced. The gigantic carousel! The tchochkes! The ubiquitous sourdough bread bowls filled with clam chowder! It's like Disneyland! Do has mentioned those sourdough bread bowls at least once a week since we moved to Oakland. (model at left is from alexanderchen.com)
So I decided to surprise him. If Do couldn't leave work and frolic around San Francisco with me, then I would bring San Francisco to him. I would make homemade clam chowder and serve it in sourdough bread bowls.
(I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I was so excited about the idea that I had to call him up and share ... so much for the surprise part. But it did mean that he was a very happy boy for the second half of the afternoon).
The bread bowls were easy: Boudin Bakery, a company that prides itself on serving San Francisco sourdough since the '49ers showed up, has a demonstration bakery right on the Wharf. Their smallest sourdough round was half a pound, and the samples tasted quite good, sour and fluffy with a good crust. I picked up two, and sauntered to the Bart (well, limped -- remember those blisters) looking more French than the hordes of mostly-French tourists (I was carrying fresh bread; they were wearing "I escaped Alcatraz" sweatshirts and shivering in their shorts).
The Clam Chowder took more creativity. Once I got to thinking about it, I started getting less pleased with myself and more intimidated: Do's very particular about his clam chowder. He feels very strongly that it shouldn't involve any pork products, it should have almost-overwhelming clam flavor instead of veggie flavor, and it should be super thick. His family is into clam chowder in a big way: last summer his parents embarked on a Great New England Clam Chowder Roadtrip. Not to mention that we regularly stuffed ourselves on the best Clam Chowder in Washington D.C. Well, at least that gave me something to shoot for.
The cans of chowder on prominent display at the wharf were bypassed in favor of guidance from Foodie Fashionista (she adapted Barefoot Contessa's recipe) and Diannes Dishes (with a brilliant secret ingredient -- Bay Seasoning). Their recipes and comments really helped me figure out what I wanted and how to get there. I wanted caramelized veggies, so I sautéed them instead of boiling them. I wanted thick, so I made a substantial roux and leaned towards Barefoot Contessa's artery clogging quantities of butter and cream. I wanted lots of clam flavor, so I used a ton of clam juice and clams.
Finally, it was done. The consistently was right, the spicing was right (the Bay Seasoning and thyme are indispensable), but it was missing some deeper, underlying flavor. Do's suggestion of Soy Sauce sounded so weird that I wouldn't let him add it to the whole pot, but he tested it and it worked! I know it sounds crazy, but this clam chowder turned out amazing and definitely competes with our Washington D.C. favorite. Complete triumph. Since this is one of the first times that we've creating a recipe and it worked, we'd like to share this recipe with Lore and her relatively new Original Recipes event.
Do's New Favorite Clam Chowder
8 Tbs butter (1 stick), divided in half
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 large celery stalks, chopped
2 large potatoes, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons thyme leaves
1 Tbs Old Bay Seasoning
3 bay Leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups clam juice (3 bottles)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 Half-Pint carton of heavy whipping cream
3 cups Baby Clams, drained and rinsed. (3 cans)
Half a bag of frozen corn
2 1/8 tsp Soy Sauce
Garnish: Chopped parsley
Melt 5 tablespoons (1/2 stick) of the butter in a large heavy-bottomed stockpot. Add the onions, celery, and potatoes and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Be sure to stir regularly to keep the potatoes from sticking to the bottom. Add the thyme, Old Bay seasoning, salt, and pepper and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the clam juice and the bay leaves, bring to a boil, and simmer, uncovered, until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
In a small pot, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and whisk in the flour. Whisk continuously over the lowest heat setting for 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in a cup of the hot broth from the pot and then pour this mixture back into the cooked vegetables. Carefully whisk the chowder to incorporate the roux (this is boiling chowder people!). Simmer for a few minutes until the broth is thickened.
Add the heavy cream, the corn, and clams and heat gently for a few minutes to cook the clams. Add the soy sauce and taste for salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley and serve hot in bread bowls!
Yields 6-8 servings