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Today's Lesson: Chowder [Oct. 17th, 2007|08:23 am]
Dear Pyllgrum has provoked the following lecture, which is pieced together from many sober, not so sober and fairly besotted restaurant table discussions. I do come from a family, and a region, that will fight to the death over what exactly constitutes chowder, when is it not chowder, and above all, what crackers are ALLOWED to touch a good chowder.

Of course, if you know me, then you're prounoucing this correctly in your head, chowduh. If you hear me put an "r" into it, well, smack me and help me keep the mid-atlantic at bay.

Fish or seafood, stewed with vegetables in liquid. End of discussion. Soup, stew, main dish? Doesn't matter. Those people who piss and moan that one version is too thick, it's not authentic, or those who piss and moan that another version is too thin, it's damn near soup...well, they're just blowing regional smoke. How can corn chowder....well, it's not really chowder if it doesn't have fish in it, just as a burger made out of lamb or turkey or the thighs of small children isn't really a burger, but a meat patty...but why split hairs when you can eat them?

That being said -- Chowder is like BBQ -- every region thinks they invented it, are the only ones who know how to do it and everyone else's version is crap. Like religion, really, except at least with Gustatorial arguments, you get to eat something more interesting than stale wafers and jug wine.

Here's your short course: Clear is Rhode Island (although some of the best New England chowder I've had was in Rhode Island). Creamy is the rest of New England. Tomato is New York. (Not upstate New York...when you talk chowder, you're talking about Long Island/Manhattan. The rest of the state wouldn't know a littleneck from a Quahog.) Brown is Jamaica...the island, not the New York locality.

It's got to have fish of some kind, onions, and potatoes and some herbs for seasoning. Don't get fancy though, this is New England. Parsley is just fine.

I would insist on salt pork or bacon as your starter fat. I'm from New England, so of course it has cream or milk to finish. You can make it with any white fish, but I'll reveal where in New England I'm from by admitting that cod and haddock are my preference and Quahogs for the clams...although that could be fond memories of Quahogging or just because, like a true New Englander we like to make fun of outsiders who can't pronounce it. (See how much I love you: Co-Hog. And it's Kwin-Zee Market, not Kwin-See as in the Medical Examiner. There, now you can to to Boston and not shame yourself. Oh, and the subway there is the "T". And...sigh. You better just bring me along when you go.) Anyway, the fight over which clams are proper can go on for days...although truthfully, the whole POINT of chowder was something that was cheap and easy to prepare with ingredients that were typically on hand, so the PROPER fish or clam was whatever you came home with.

I'll eat the kind with tomatoes in it, but only if it's Portugese -- because that's New England. I'm not eating any of the other reds. That would be like cheering for the Yankees. Not gonna happen.

I'll eat the clear, but then I'll have to crush crackers in it to thicken it up. Common crackers, not Saltines. There's already salt in it, for crissakes.

Aw, see, now you've made me hungry.

[User Picture]From: thatliardiego
2007-10-17 01:21 pm (UTC)
There, now you can to to Boston and not shame yourself. Oh, and the subway there is the "T". And...sigh. You better just bring me along when you go.

Not if you're gonna drive like a Bostonian. And not if you have to fly into Logan, either.

And since when is Rhode Island not in New England, Miss Persnickety?
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[User Picture]From: terribleturnip
2007-10-17 03:19 pm (UTC)
Honey, if we're going to Boston, you'll be glad I can drive like a Bostonian. Hey, at least when a Beantowner cuts you off, they SAW you. Unlike here, where the drivers are very focused on anything BUT the other people on the road. If the ADD doesn't kill me, the self-importance will.

Rhode Island IS in New England, ya internationally-raised snob. Did you miss the section Venn Diagrams and subsets? BUT real local food traditions take precedence over regional food traditions. Which is why a milkshake in Rhode Island is called a cabinet. Nah. That's not why. I don't know why. Rhode Island is just...different.
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[User Picture]From: thatliardiego
2007-10-17 03:25 pm (UTC)

Clear is Rhode Island (although some of the best New England chowder I've had was in Rhode Island)

Shall we parse the meaning of "although?" :P

And those of us raised all over and traveled all over would rah-thuh you (and all the rest of the Bostonians) drove like sane people, thank yew.

(And the 1/2 Arkansan in me wants to follow this with, bless your heart.)
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[User Picture]From: terribleturnip
2007-10-17 03:28 pm (UTC)
Well, the only way to hash this out is over alcohol. Your place or mine?

Although the proper New England response to "bless your heart" is "F*** you" because we know what y'all MEAN....
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[User Picture]From: thatliardiego
2007-10-17 03:53 pm (UTC)
You said, "y'all."

As JFK said, the DC area is the epitome of Southern efficiency and Northern charm.

You'll do just fine down thisaways. Hon. :)
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[User Picture]From: pyllgrum
2007-10-17 03:32 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the only thing that binds Rhode Island to New England culturally is the prevalence of drive-thru Dunkin Donuts.

There is still a major apology due from Providence for "coffee syrup".
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[User Picture]From: sestree
2007-10-17 01:49 pm (UTC)
Until I moved to the East Coast I thought that Clam Chowder was red and rather like gumbo only not as spicy and without rice.


That is until pyllgrum took me to Cape Cod. There I discovered that you northerners *can* make pretty good seafood. I am now a clam chowder fan :)

I still don't quite understand the oyster crackers bit but then again I still don't get the roads around here either .....
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[User Picture]From: thatliardiego
2007-10-17 03:01 pm (UTC)
There I discovered that you northerners *can* make pretty good seafood.

This coming from someone whose closest waterway is called "The Big Muddy." Quel understatement.
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[User Picture]From: sestree
2007-10-17 03:05 pm (UTC)
Ok yes points to you. We fish in cricks and steams and sutch.

However - I lived for a short time in Lousianna. I never did quite get the language and I never quite understood how you called the dog catcher to remove the gator from your carport but I *did* get the food - in a MAJOR way.

It was heavy drooling lust the first crab boil I ever went to :D 'dems some good eatins thar !
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[User Picture]From: pyllgrum
2007-10-17 01:52 pm (UTC)
In my last visit to the Cape, I tried a 6a chowder house just east of Hyannis.

I detected a spoon of sour cream in the mix. It was shocking, at first, but not totally out of place. The roux was well made, without a hint of uncooked flour.

Most excellent.
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[User Picture]From: sestree
2007-10-17 02:00 pm (UTC)
Was I there?

Wait - that sounded stupid ... most of that last visit is still a blur but was that the place I liked better than the first place there by your Mom's?

Y'all are sloooooowly winning me over but I still ain't eatin nuthin that's still LOOKING at me whilst I eat it.
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[User Picture]From: pyllgrum
2007-10-17 02:29 pm (UTC)
Yes. This was the restaurant on the road to the Chatham lighthouse.
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[User Picture]From: pyratelady
2007-10-17 08:36 pm (UTC)
I suppose the salmon chowder at the Royal Mile breaks some rules... they plate it in a bowl, but with a big slab of salmon on top. It's up to the diner to break it up into the soup. I belive the broth was... cloudy? Not clear, but not opaque creamy white like New England clam chowder.

Still, I liked it a lot. Smoky and salty with bacon, onions, and big pieces of potato. Kind of a rustic seafood soup.

Personally I can't abide chowder with tomato in it. I'm intruigued by the Jamaican version, though.
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