February 25 is National Clam Chowder Day. Need any more reasons to tuck into a warm bowl tonight? We didn’t think so.
ertain foods and cocktails are perfect for a cold harsh winter day, like hot toddies and coffee nudges, silky butternut squash soup, and slow-braised short ribs. Cioppino, bouillabaisse, or Pop Pop’s creamy seafood chowder- big, heaping, steaming bowls with crab legs jutting out like the creatures from the deep that they are- fit right into that same category.
Feel free to vary the fish and seafood, keeping the total quantity roughly similar to the amounts specified in the recipe. For example, instead of King crab legs, you could substitute one cooked and cleaned Dungeness crab, which has been cut into sections and cracked. You will need a pot, with a lid, that will be large enough to hold the chowder base and all the seafood. A stockpot, or a large Dutch oven, such as enameled cast iron, will work well.
The king crab legs you buy will most likely be frozen. Defrost them slowly in the refrigerator to preserve their quality, not at room temperature under running water.
Be sure your soup bowls are warm before you fill them. You may want to enlist a spouse or guest to be a helper in the kitchen, scooping out fish and seafood, ladling chowder, and wiping soup bowl rims, so it all stays hot. Since these are big, generous bowls of chowder, you may want to make a double batch of the scones, for dunking in the delicious broth.
This chowder has a lot of ingredients, but if you make the chowder base ahead, and have all your seafood scrubbed, de-bearded, sliced and otherwise prepped, you can bring it to the table in about 15 minutes.
Creamy Alaska Seafood Chowder
Makes 6 servings
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
1 leek, split in half, washed, and finely chopped, white and light green parts only
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups canned tomato puree
5 cups ham hock stock, hot (can substitute chicken stock)
2 medium thin-skinned potatoes (about ¾ pound), such as Yukon gold, cut into ½ inch dice
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon Tabasco, or to taste
1 pound local clams, scrubbed and rinsed
1 pound local mussels, scrubbed, debearded, and rinsed
½ pound large Alaskan scallops, sliced in half horizontally
½ pound Alaska cod filets such as halibut, cod, or yellow eye rockfish, cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
8 cups loosely packed, spinach leaves (1 large bunch, about 12 ounces, or 4 ounces bagged “ready to eat” spinach leaves)
3 cooked Alaska king crab legs (about 1 to 1½ pounds), thawed if frozen, each leg cut into 3 sections crosswise and split in half lengthwise
Smoked paprika rouille or your choice of rouille
12 parsley scones or bread of choice, and unsalted butter, softened for serving
- Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the leek, onion, celery, and carrot and sauté until the vegetables are starting to brown, about 6 minutes.
- Add the garlic and the ham hock meat and sauté a few more minutes. Stir in the wine and the tomato puree and bring to a simmer.
- Stir in the ham hock stock and the potatoes, adjusting the heat to keep the mixture at a simmer.
- Cover the pot and cook until the potatoes are just tender, about 12 minutes.
- Stir in the cream and herbs, season to taste with salt and pepper, and add the Tabasco. Add the clams and mussels, cover the pot, and cook until they open, about 4 minutes.
- Season the scallops and fish with salt and pepper, then add them to the pot, using a big spoon to submerge everything as much as possible in the simmering liquid. Cover and simmer 2 more minutes.
- Open the lid, stir in the spinach, then put the crab legs on top of the chowder, split sides up so the crabmeat doesn’t fall out. Cover and continue to simmer 1 more minute.
- Turn off the heat and let the pot sit, covered, 5 minutes. Open the lid and check that the scallops and fish are cooked through and that the crab is warm.
- Squeeze the lemon into the pot and season to taste with salt, pepper, and Tabasco.
- Using a slotted spoon and a ladle, divide all the fish, shellfish, and chowder among 6 large shallow soup plates, discarding any clams or mussels that have not opened.
- After plating, split 6 of the scones in half, dollop the cut side of each half with rouille, and balance 2 halves on the rim of each soup bowl. Scrape the rest of the rouille into a pretty dish and pass with the chowder, also passing the remaining 6 scones, split and spread with butter.
Note: You can make the chowder base, but without adding any of the fish or shellfish, or the spinach, up to 2 days ahead, and store, covered and refrigerated. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, add the clams or mussels, and continue as described above.