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Clams or fish? Tomatoes or cream? It's eater's choice

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Clam chowder is probably the nation's most famous chowder. It is traditionally made with quahogs -- large hard-shell clams -- but one could easily use littlenecks or cherrystones. The chowder below has two twists: bacon is added in addition to salt pork and fried julienned leeks are used as a garnish. The recipe comes from Ris Lacoste, chef at 21 Federal St. in Washington.

White clam chowder with leeks

Serves 12.

24 quahogs (3 cups clam meat and liquor)

3 cups dry white wine

approximately 2 cups fish stock, clam broth, or water

6 leeks, trimmed and washed

2 onions

4 stalks celery

3 ounces salt pork

6 strips of bacon

1/3 cup flour

3 large potatoes, peeled and diced

bouquet garni of bay leaf, thyme, and parsley

salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper

2 cups peanut oil for frying the leeks

1 cup heavy cream

4 tablespoons finely chopped chives or parsley

3 tablespoons butter

Scrub the quahogs and place them in a large, covered pot with the wine. Steam them for 10-15 minutes or until the shells just open. Shuck the quahogs and grind, using a meat grinder or food processor. Strain the cooking liquid through a cheesecloth -- you should have 2 quarts. If you don't, add a fish stock, clam broth, or water to make up the difference. Reserve the ground clams and the liquid separately.

Finely chop three of the leeks. Cut the remaining leeks into a fine julienne and reserve them for the garnish. Finely chop the onion and celery. Finely dice the salt pork and bacon. Fry the salt pork and bacon in a large pot over medium heat to render the fat. Remove the cracklings with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Discard all but 6 tablespoons fat.

Add the chopped leek, onion, and celery and gently cook for 3-4 minutes, or until soft. Stir in the flour and cook over a low heat for 3-4 minutes. Whisk in the quahog liquid and bouquet garni and gradually bring the chowder to a boil. Add the potatoes and simmer for 8-10 minutes, or until tender. Stir in the cream, quahogs, cracklings, and salt, pepper and cayenne to taste.

Just before serving, heat the oil to 375 degrees. Fry the julienned leeks for 1 minute or until crisp, drain on paper towels, and sprinkle with salt. To serve, ladle the chower in bowls. Place a pat of butter in each bowl and garnish with fried leeks.

Clams or fish? Tomatoes or cream? Nothing brings out controversy like chowder. Rhode Islanders like red chowders -- flavored with tomatoes -- a practice that smacks of heresy to a neighboring Bay Stater. Here's how Boston chef William Poirier makes red chowder, and it's good enough to convert the most diehard white chowder fanatic.

Rhode Island red chowder

Serves eight.

16 large quahogs (2 cups chopped meat)

2 cups dry white wine

2-3 cups bottled clam broth or fish stock

1/4 pound salt pork

1 large onion

2 stalks celery

2 cloves garlic

1 bunch flat-leaf parsley

2 bay leaves

2 sprigs thyme

4 ripe tomatoes

1 tablespoon tomato puree

2 large potatoes

salt, fresh black pepper, and cayenne pepper

Scrub the quahogs and place them in a large, covered pot with the wine. Steam them for 10-15 minutes or until the shells just open. Shuck the quahogs and grind, using a meat grinder or food processor. Strain the cooking liquid through a cheesecloth -- you should have 6 cups. If you don't, add a fish stock, clam broth, or water to make up the difference.

Finely dice the salt pork. Slowly fry the salt pork in a large pot over low heat to render the fat. Transfer the cracklings with a slotted spoon to a paper towel to drain. Meanwhile, finely chop the onion and celery. Mince the garlic. Tie half the parsley and the other herbs into a bouquet garni. Finely chop the remaining parsley. Peel, seed, and coarsely chop the tomatoes. Peel and dice the potatoes into a bowl of cold water to prevent them from browning.

Saute the onions, celery, garlic, and bouquet garni in the rendered fat over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, or until soft but not brown. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, increase heat to high, and cook for 1 minute. Add the 6 cups clam liquid and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes, reduce the heat, and simmer the chowder for 8-10 minutes, or until tender.

Just before serving, stir in the quahog meat and salt and pepper to taste. Garnish the chowder with chopped parsley and the salt pork cracklings and serve at once.

The next recipe was loosely inspired by a dish at the restaurant Al Forno in Providence, R.I. Curry powder, cilantro, and scotch bonnet chilies lend the chowder a West Indian accent. (Scotch bonnets are the world's hottest chilies -- look for them at Caribbean markets. Or substitute a milder chili, such as serrano or jalapeno.) Be sure to use unsweetened coconut milk, which can be found canned at Indian, Southeast Asian, and Hispanic markets.

Shrimp and scallop chowder with coconut milk

Serves eight to 10.

2 pounds shrimp

1 pound sea scallops

1/2 scotch bonnet or other hot chili, seeded

4 shallots

2 cloves garlic

3 scallions

1 inch fresh ginger

1 red bell pepper

1 green bell pepper

3 tablespoons butter

2-3 teaspoon curry powder

6 cups fish stock or bottled clam broth

2 cups coconut milk

salt and fresh black pepper

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

Peel and devein the shrimp and cut into 1 inch pieces. Remove the crescent-shaped muscle on the side of the scallops. Cut large scallops quarters, medium size ones in half, so that all are the same size. Mince the chili, shallots, garlic, scallions, and ginger. Core, seed, and dice the peppers.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Cook the minced and diced vegetables over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, or until soft but not brown. Add the curry powder and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the fish stock and coconut milk and gently simmer for 5 minutes.

Just before serving, add the shrimp and scallops. Gently simmer for 2-3 minutes, or until the shellfish is firm. Correct the seasoning, adding salt, pepper, or curry powder to taste. To serve, ladle the chowder into bowls and garnish each with cilantro.

Chowder originated as fish stew. But in areas where seafood was unavailable, resourceful Americans used vegetables. This recipe comes from my friend Rich Spencer, a chef in the Mount Washington Valley.

Parsnip chowder with squash

Serves six to eight.

1 pound parsnips

1 pound butternut squash or sweet potatoes

4 strips bacon

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

3 tablespoons flour

5 cups chicken stock

bouquet garni of bay leaf, thyme, and parsley

1 cinnamon stick

1 cup heavy cream

salt fresh white pepper

cayenne pepper

freshly grated nutmeg

3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Peel the parsnips and squash and cut each into 1/4 -inch dice. Cut the bacon into 1/4 -inch strips and render it in a large saucepan. When the bacon pieces are lightly browned, transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Discard all but 3 tablespoons fat.

Add the onion and celery and cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, or until soft by not brown. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute to make a roux. Whisk in the chicken stock and bring to a boil: the mixture will thicken slightly.

Add the bouquet garni, cinnamon stick, parsnips, and squash. Simmer the chowder for 6-8 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender but not soft. Stir in the cream, salt, pepper, cayenne, and nutmeg. Just before serving, remove the bouquet garni and cinnamon stick and correct the seasoning. Ladle the chowder into bowls and sprinkle each with fresh chopped chive and nutmeg.

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