There are plenty of foods I have trouble denying myself. A good chili. Corned beef hash and eggs. Fries dipped in ranch sauce (my east coast friends balk, but trust me, it's a match made in heaven). Spam musubi. Biscuits and gravy. And, of course, clam chowder.
My love for chowder began early, even though it was usually out of a can. Back then, I didn't know mashed potatoes could be made with real potatoes (hey, I thought they came out of Betty Crocker box, in freeze-dried flakes, such a sad childhood I had). So it's no surprise that the first time I suspected that clam chowder could be made at home was well into my college years, when my uncle, who used to work in a restaurant, told my dad how to make it.
I never actually tried it myself, until now.
About a year ago, when I was still working at Google, I gave active feedback to the culinary team there
, both positive and constructive, to the point that they knew me well by name, if not by face. When one day they made clam chowder that blew my mind, I made sure they knew it. It was just the right consistency - thickish and creamy
, not chalky, with perfectly tender potatoes
and juicy, flavorful bits of clam
in every bite.
The sous chef at the time, Jef, was so pleased that he told me to swing by the kitchen one afternoon so he could show me how to make it. I'd never been behind the scenes at a Google kitchen before (though if you work there, you can do culinary internships and all kinds of good stuff). He already had a big pile of diced mirepoix simmering in about a pound of butter
in an enormous stockpot. He told me he'd cheated a bit and pre-roasted the yukon gold potatoes in the oven, but that if you really wanted to thicken the chowder naturally you'd let the potatoes cook together with the stock and let the starch do its work.
This time, I decided to make a smoked salmon chowder using the lessons I learned in the Google kitchen and loosely based on this recipe
, and I already had some very nice Norwegian smoked salmon waiting to be used up in my freezer. I also started with mirepoix, but used a lot less butter - just about 3 tablespoons or so. Let it render down, then added an equal amount of flour to make the roux
. I then added water, and it was already starting to look like a chowder even though I hadn't added one lick of cream yet. I added dill weed, several healthy sprinkles of smoked salt, pepper, and vegetables (frozen white corn and fresh asparagus).
I let the vegetables cook down to tenderness and then started to add the half-and-half, little by little (the Google chef had used just milk but I guess it didn't matter). It really didn't need that much cream, and as soon as it reached my desired creaminess I threw in the salmon, which I had hand-flaked, along with the cheese. Oh, and I forgot the garlic.
In the end, the chowder had a nice consistency but I felt it was just a tad too fishy. It probably would have been better to use fresh, not frozen, smoked salmon. Duly noted.