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Monday, March 25, 2013

Ciowdah: A bicoastal marriage of two Italian-American seafood stews

Posted By on 03.25.13 at 05:05 PM

ciowdah
Yesterday I had a jones for some classic Manhattan clam chowder, the lighter, brighter tomato-based version of the far more common (and varied) dairy-based chowders. Historically, MCC has been scorned by flinty, flavor-hating New Englanders ever since it came on the scene in the 30s—in Rhode Island, of all places, according to John Mariani (via OCF). I can't help but wonder if that's because tomato-based seafood stews were beloved by a certain group of tomato-loving new immigrants, like say the Italians and the Portuguese. Food-based bigotry perhaps?

If that's true, it's funny you don't often see a connection made between Manhattan clam chowder and cioppino, another Italian-American invention, born on the opposite coast by San Francisco fishermen making use of the day's catch in a tomato- and wine-based stew that often incorporated the anisey notes of chopped fennel. Cioppino has far more in common with bouillabaise than it does with MCC, but it's close enough, so when I was in the store to pick up my potatoes and carrots, I hung a left turn, grabbing a few fennel bulbs instead, and then a can of chickpeas just for the hell of it. The result was a bicoastal merger that definitely improved the eastern contribution, while simplifying the western one. But you can wing it any way you like.

First I diced up a good cup's worth of fatty bacon and crisped it in the bottom of a Dutch oven. I added a diced onion, a diced green pepper, three chopped celery stalks, two chopped fennel bulbs, and four minced cloves of garlic. I sauteed them in the fat until they were translucent, then added bay leaves, oregano, and thyme, then three cups of chicken broth and three bottles of Bumble Bee brand clam juice.* I simmered it for a few hours, then added two large packages of whole frozen clams I found at Joong Boo and the chickpeas, heating slowly until just cooked through. Serve it with Louisiana Hot sauce and buttered sourdough toast and you're golden.

*One of the few reasons you should ever need to enter a Jewel.

Mike Sula writes about cooking every Monday.

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