Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Florida Clam 'Chowdah'

Having just returned from a wonderful week on Longboat Key for my Dad's birthday, we enjoyed many delicious meals out at some great area restaurants. One soup on many of the menus was Florida Clam Chowder, which is very similar to New England Clam Chowder. Thick and creamy, a great chowder should include fresh shucked clams, fork tender potatoes and enough cream to make it a little bit sinful. Never mind though, you'll walk off the calories window shopping on St. Armand's Circle or walking on the sandy white beaches. A visit to Longboat Key is never complete without a culinary pilgrimage to Star Fish Company, a little gem of a place nestled within the quiet hamlet of Cortez Village on the edge of Sarasota Bay, where you'll find the freshest seafood in the area, and the freshest clams!

Florida Clam Chowder

Makes 6-8 1-1/4 cup servings

4 bacon slices, coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 cup chopped leeks
1 cup chopped celery
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 bay leaves
8 tbsp unslated butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups cubed potatoes
1 8 oz bottle of clam juice
1 cup whole milk
2 cups half-and-half cream
3 6.5 oz cans clams, drained, juice reserved
1 lb little neck clams, shucked
2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper

In a heavy stock pot, over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until cooked. Add the potatoes, onion, celery and garlic, and saute for about 2 minutes or until the vegetables start to soften. Season with salt and pepper. Add the clam juice and bay leaves, and simmer gently until the potatoes are fork tender, about 10 minutes.

While the vegetables simmer, melt the butter in a large saucepan. Whisk in the flour to create a smooth mixture, and then add the cream and milk. Combine until smooth, being careful to not bring the mixture to the boil.

When tender, pour the vegetables and clam juice into the cream. Gently combine ingredients, and remove the bay leaves. Add salt, and generous amounts of cracked pepper.

Add the clams and continue to stir over a gentle heat until the clams are cooked through. Be careful not to overcook, as the clams will become tough.

Serve in warmed deep bowls, and garnish with fresh parsley and extra pepper.