The Chef: Colin Wyatt
His Restaurant: Twelve in Portland, Maine
What he is known for: Riffing on New England classics with the freshest local ingredients and equal parts quirkiness and luxury.
AS CHEF in Maine, Chef Colin Wyatt must meet certain expectations. “Clam chowder is one of those things that people always want when they come to visit,” he said. Naturally, he takes the most famous soup in the region seriously.
“This is where I ended up,” he said of his latest Slow Food Fast recipe. “For me, the trick is to make the cockles shine. You have to show off their saltiness. Since cream adds a bit of greasiness, you really don’t need butter or flour. He rounds out the pan with chunks of potato, salty bits of bacon, sauteed leeks—”more delicate than onions,” according to Mr. Wyatt—cubes of celeriac and parsley, plus a bracing dollop of crème fraîche, stirred in at the boil. at the very end.
Mr. Wyatt considers winter to be chowder’s prime season, when the water is cold and the clams are at their peak. “I steam them in a single layer and I take them all out as they open,” he said. That way he doesn’t cook them a bit initially so that once the base of the soup is ready to receive them, the mussels are done cooking to the point of sublime.
—Kitty Greenwald is a chef, food writer and co-writer of ‘Slow Fires’ (Clarkson Potter)
Many chowder recipes start with a roux of flour and fat. This one skips that stiff step and lets the salty clams shine.
- 3½ pounds small neck clams
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup dry white wine
- ¼ pound thick-cut bacon, cut into thick dice
- 1 medium leek, sliced and washed
- 1 large Yukon Gold potato, cut into ½ inch cubes
- ¼ celeriac, peeled and cut into ½ cm cubes
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ cup whipped cream
- 1 cup of milk
- ½ cup of crème fraîche
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- Oyster crackers, to garnish
- Scrub the mussels thoroughly. In a large bowl, submerge the scrubbed clams in salted water to remove the debris from their shells, for at least 10 minutes. Drain the clams and rinse them.
- Heat a heavy, wide pan over medium heat. Add mussels and white wine. Cover and steam until clams open, 4-7 minutes. Place a bowl next to the stove and use tongs to transfer the clams to it as they pop. Discard any clams that remain closed. Turn off the fire. Remove the cockles from the open shells and collect all the juices in a bowl. Place the peeled clams in a separate bowl and discard their shells.
- Wipe the pan clean and place over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until crispy all over, 3-5 minutes. Remove the bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add leeks to pot and cook until tender, 4 minutes. Add reserved clam juices, diced potatoes and diced celeriac and bay leaves, plus enough water to just cover the vegetables. Bring everything to a boil, cover the pot and cook until the potatoes and celeriac are al dente, about 10 minutes. Stir in the cream and milk.
- Continue to simmer until the potatoes and celeriac are completely tender and the stock is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 more minutes. Stir in the reserved clams and any accumulated juices in the bowl, along with the crème fraîche. Cook until the clams are hot for 1-2 minutes and turn off the heat. Add parsley and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm with oyster crackers.
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