Thursday, July 31, 2008

Clam Chowder in Sourdough Bowls: Bringing the Wharf home

First, Don't Forget to Vote in Do's Poll at right! It closes Saturday at 9 a.m.

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.

Poor Do.

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

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


noble pig said...

Hey fun day for you...the wharf is crazy isn't it, especially in the summer.

I would have never thought of adding soy sauce either, I'll have to try that sometime.

Michelle said...

I dearly love Boudin sour dough bread! I've only been to SF once and I ate as much of their bread as I could in 4 days. And I remember the hills and the angled cars and don't forget the city is built on hills and an earthquake fault!

Your chowder sounds just delish! I can taste it all the way in Chicago.

Holler said...

That would be a good way of serving soup!

Kevin said...

I have been wanting to try clam chowder for a while. I really like the bread bowls!

Jeanine said...

Oh man, that chowder in a sour dough bowl looks fantastic! yummy!

Joelen said...

Hey Neen! Now why don't I have your blog on my google reader?! Thanks for the recent comment on my blog - too funny! The city certainly has some affordable groceries, especially the multitude of ethnic markets especially by me on the North Side by Loyola Univ. But yesterday on a whim we went up to the suburb of Niles and hit up one of my fave grocery stores - Super H Mart. Truly a glorious place for produce and meats. As for the crabs, we ate them inside and my husband got pretty primitive with them... sucking the meat out and hands dripping with broth/juice - lol. I'm looking forward to reading your blog on a more regular basis now that you're on my google reader. Keep up the great blogging Neen & Do! :)

Krysta said...

i was thinking wow, it's way too hot for clam chowder your only 90 or so miles away. then i forget it's sf. i'm going to try some soy sauce in my clam chowder.... this winter!

take the bread bowls and put spaghetti or pesto in them.. oh good!

Corinne said...

beautiful pictures! how fun another blogging-couple! Nice to meet you neen and do :)

HoneyB said...

Hi Neen - thanks for leaving the comment on my blog!

I have never seen a sight like the photo of the city on a hill! Of course, I'm in the Adirondack Mountain's and our hills and mountains on the east coast are SO different from the pacific coast! It was cool to see your photos!

cook eat FRET said...

just look at that damn chowder


Jaime said...

i love soup in bread bowls! mmmm... you should also try the potato cheddar soup in my blog in a bread bowl, perfect for fall/winter :)

btw - the information about the mini cake pan i used is already linked within my post :)

[eatingclub] vancouver || js said...

I've been wanting to try making clam chowder for the longest time. Why I haven't I don't exactly know. Most likely, it has to do with my "lack of industry." This might just rouse me. . .So yummy-looking.

Soy sauce works. We tried to make gravy with soy sauce (we were without giblets etc) before and the finished product really did taste gravy-like.

tigerfish said...

Now, you make me miss California even more!

Johanna said...

I am impressed by Do's dedication to the clam chowder. In fact your post had me eyeing off your clam chowder thinking, I really want some but can I do a vego version!

Did you eat the sourdough bowls?

kittie said...

That looks so good - Do is a lucky boy!

Weird, but good tip on the soy sauce - I've never made clam chowder, but will definitely bear that in mind if I do!!

Hope your blisters are improving :D

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Sounds like such a fun day! This chowder looks really good!

Dianne said...

Your chowder looks great and the bread bowls...Yum! :)

Adam said...

Totally jealous of the bread bowels. I haven't had one of those since going to Boston. Clam chowder is a beautiful thing.

Soy sauce? You don't say? Well that's something I have to think about... and by think about I mean try out with style.

That Girl said...

I've only made clam chowder once, but it's always one of those things I'm meaning to do again. And I'm with Do, I love those bread bowls!

kat said...

wow, what a day you had in the city, your poor legs! Your classic SF dish looks great

Dee said...

Love the idea of soap in a bread bowl. Saves on washing up too!

Lori Lynn said...

Tchochkes. Oy vey! Too funny! Did you know how to spell it? I didn't.

I'm not surprised the soy sauce worked, adds a bit of umami flavor. Great idea there! Your recipe sounds terrific.

Dragon said...

Sounds like a perfect day! The chowder sounds and looks amazing. Sourdough bread is the perfect vessel for this soup.

melissa said...

I'm bookmarking this one, Neen. YUUUUMMMMY. Clam chowder is the best and I am really impressed you did this so well at home. I tried it a couple of times a few years ago and never got it quite perfect.

Walking around SF is really fascinating. And I love the Wharf, touristy or not!

giz said...

I love this recipe - not entirely simple but really beautiful. I have some extremely fond memories of San Francisco and the warf - best shrimp crackers in the world not to mention clam chowder. After the hike up the steep hills (a total nightmare) go drive Lombard Street - there's a walk into hell (or drive as the case is)

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