However, a warm savory steam from the kitchen served to belie the apparently cheerless prospect before us. But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh, sweet friends! hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt. Our appetites being sharpened by the frosty voyage, and in particular, Queequeg seeing his favourite fishing food before him, and the chowder being surpassingly excellent, we despatched it with great expedition...
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, Herman Melville, Chowder
On a Saturday morning, I love nothing better than a long, leisurely coffee and book in bed, followed by a solo stroll around my local market. London can feel overwhelming at times - my daily commute, those times when something I need is somewhere near Oxford St and the proliferation of plays to see, restaurants to eat at and things to do. On Saturdays, Broadway Market is packed (of course), with locals and tourists. However, I know my way around so well that picking up a few ingredients (a couple of handfuls of clams, some new potatoes and a pot of double cream, for instance) is a task I could do with my eyes closed. I can calmly stroll, stopping for a mascarpone and orange blossom water stuffed date from Zardosht, and taking the long way home via the canal.
Walking on Broadway Market Photo: Lean + Meadow
A couple of weeks back, one particularly cold Saturday, I did just this. I'd been reading Moby Dick in the morning, warmed by the thought Mrs Hussey's chowder. It's something I'd never eaten, but it seemed to consume my thoughts nonetheless. I have long imagined a trip to New England, always complete with a bowl of chowder, ideally eaten in late winter, while overlooking the sea. As such, the title of the chapter was all the inspiration I needed - though Herman Melville was generous enough to give me pages and pages of specifics.
By mid afternoon, I was sitting with a bowl of steaming chowder in front of me. I hadn't come inside straight off the rolling seas, but after a blustery morning I couldn't have imagined a better meal.
3 sprigs thyme
1tbsp flour (use cornflour/cornstarch for a gluten free version)
2 large new potatoes
40ml double cream
Lots of cracked pepper and a pinch of sea salt
Small saucepan with lid
Sheet of muslin (or paper towel)
1. Rinse the clams and place them in the saucepan, along with the water. Place the lid on the pan and bring to the boil. Allow the clams to steam for a couple of minutes until they have opened, trying to resist peeking too often. Once open, sieve the clams, reserving the liquid, and set them aside. Once cool enough, remove the clams from the shells. I threw in a couple still in their shells (for the photo, to be honest), but it's much better not to. You should be able to eat this without having to pick through it.
2. Wash and dry the saucepan and cook the pancetta in it over a medium heat. It will release its own fat, so you don't need to add any at this point. Remove the pancetta to a bowl and fry the finely chopped shallot in the fat left in the pan. Cook for five minutes until golden, but keep the shallot moving; you don't want it crisp. Return the pancetta to the pan, and then add the leaves from the sprigs of thyme, along with the bay leaf and flour. Cook for a minute, stirring constantly.
3. Strain the clam liquid through the sieve, this time lined with a sheet of muslin. Slowly pour it in to the pan, stirring constantly so the flour doesn't clump. Add the chopped potatoes and simmer over a medium heat for around ten minutes, or until they're cooked.
4. Stir the clams through the chowder and allow them time to warm through. Remove the pan from the heat, stir through the cream and add the salt and pepper.
Serve with bread or crackers, for dunking.