Chowder is a traditional soup from America’s north-eastern states. Opinions differ as to the precise recipe but it’s always thick and usually quite pale in colour due to the addition of milk or cream and potatoes (in some areas a tomato is added as well). Corn chowder is especially popular but by far the best known, and the oldest, is clam chowder. The English word chowder probably derives from the French chaudière, a type of iron cooking pot that French colonists took with them they settled in eastern Canada. Micmacs, the First Nations people of the area, ate huge quantities of clams, cooking them on hot stones in hollowed out tree trunks filled with water. The first chowder, therefore, seems to have been a combination of a local recipe and a French cooking method.
- 400 g/14 oz cockles, cleaned
- 25 g/1 oz/2 tbsp butter
- 80 g/3¼ oz pancetta, diced
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 celery sticks, finely chopped
- 250 g/9 oz potatoes, peeled and diced
- 800 ml/1 pint 7 floz/3⅓ cups fish stock (see here)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs of thyme, plus extra for garnish
- 200 ml/7 floz/scant 1 cup milk pepper
- Check to see if all the cockle shells are whole and discard any broken ones. Cook the cockles in a covered pan in a small amount of water for 3 minutes. Lift out the cockles as soon as the shells have opened and strain the liquid left in the pan into a large bowl. Remove the meat from half the shells, reserving the rest in the shells for garnish. Set the cockle meat and shells to one side on a plate.
- Add the butter to the pan over a medium-high heat, followed by the pancetta, onion and celery. Fry over a low heat for 5 minutes until the onion is translucent and the fat in the pancetta has melted. Add the diced potatoes and cook for a further 1 minute. Add the cockle broth, fish stock, bay leaves and thyme and cook for 8–10 minutes over a medium-high heat until the potatoes are tender. Reduce the heat to low and add the milk.
- Season the soup with pepper. It might not be necessary to add salt as the pancetta and cockles are already quite salty. Simmer the soup over a low heat for 5 minutes before serving.
- Divide the cockle meat and shells between four soup bowls and ladle in the soup – the hot liquid will heat up the cockles. Serve garnished with thyme sprigs.