I read the Wikipedia article about Quahogs and I am transported to another place and time.
It is the summer of 2002 and I am 17 years old. I’ve just graduated from high school. In addition to my usual part-time job at an upscale local supermarket, I’ve taken another job at what people in my part of the world affectionately refer to as a “clam shack.”
The Cove Fish Market was a small store selling fresh fish and lobsters in the front, and a clam shack in the back. I’d spend hours every day spooning ladles of chowder into Styrofoam cups (the clear-broth, “Rhode Island style” was home made. The creamy-broth, “New England style” came in frozen.)
The team at the Cove was a mixture of fresh-faced, long-haired college girls home for the summer, and rough-edged, part-time alcoholic pot head townie guys who had started out as dishwashers.
Paul, who owned the Cove was at least 80 years old, made the best chowder I’d ever had. I didn’t care for “clear-broth” chowder one bit until I started working there. The soft blend of the broth with the cubed potatoes – the finely chopped Quahog clams – I asked my mother what she thought the secret was. “I hear he uses salt pork as a base.”
Only one guy on staff knew the recipe. The chowder needed to be prepared a day in advance, and Jay would start it on an outdoor gas hob behind the kitchen. Onions would sweat under the hot August sun in salt pork fat. I was too young to get a good sense of the recipe, and too busy spooning chowder and filling orders for lobster rolls and fried clams to ever get a good idea of his method – and for years I kept telling myself that clam chowder was one of those things I’d get around to making “one of these days.”
I was recently issued a cooking challenge to finally tackle clam chowder – albeit, involving goat’s cheese and chorizo. I give you this – which turned out smooth and silky, and will definitely be made again in this house before winter’s end.