Why has Manhattan clam chowder all but disappeared?
00-03-009 Chef Domingo Chavez ladels up some Manhatten Clam Chowder at Don's Fishmarket in Skokie. Photo by Jim Frost
Updated: May 27, 2012 8:03AM
Soon after we arrived in Seattle, we dashed to Pike Place Fish Market for a cup of Manhattan clam chowder, a soup that’s shockingly difficult to find in Chicago.
And sadly, even in a seafood center like the Pacific Northwest, Manhattan clam chowder , which offers clams in a clear, piquant, tomato-studded broth — is largely unavailable. Scouring the market, we found only one food vendor among dozens who’d serve it.
In Southeast Asia on a Holland America Line ship, we discovered that even on that food-centric voyage, in the middle of the sea, on the other side of the world, the only chowder available was the New England variety.
In the realm of clam chowders, the thick, white and creamy New England version seems, inexplicably, to have gained dominance.
Me, I prefer the lighter, spicier Manhattan clam chowder, with no throat-catching richness but rather clear and savory broth that makes it harder to skimp on — and easier to taste — clams.
Last summer, lunching at GT Fish & Oyster, I asked chef Giuseppe Tentori if he’d consider putting Manhattan clam chowder on his tables. He suggested he might, though alas, his current menu lists only cioppino: close, but no Manhattan clam chowder.
At Chowdah Fest in March, there was a stupendous array of excellent chowders. However, of more than a dozen chefs, only Jonathan Lane of Benny’s Chop House stood bravely against the seemingly indomitable tsunami of cream-based chowders with a classic Manhattan.
One challenge we’ve encountered when preparing clam chowder is that it’s difficult to infuse the broth with sufficient clam flavor; Lane overcomes this by adding extra clam liquor (the juice in the shell), which he gets from the Fishguy Market.
The first prize winner at Chowdah Fest was Tentori’s creamier clam chowder, and it was admittedly excellent — but no Manhattan clam chowder.
Clearly, we must avert the threatened extinction of Manhattan clam chowder. Certainly, the time has come to resist the unjust tyranny of New England clam chowder by celebrating the simple beauty of its lighter, tastier, under-represented and apparently under-appreciated seafood sibling, the glorious Manhattan clam chowder.
Surely many will rally to this righteous cause. Join us.
David Hammond is an Oak Park writer and contributor to WBEZ (91.5 FM) and LTHForum.com. E-mail email@example.com.