Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Rhode Island Chowder - South County Style with Oyster Crackers ~ Best Shoe Repair, Las Vegas!

Another traditional American clam chowder!

     I have posted a few regional clam chowder recipes in this blog so far.  There are three traditional styles of chowder that all chowder recipes are based upon.  Chowder was created in France a few hundred years ago.  The original French chowders were made out of salt pork, local harvested seafood and water.  Later, milk and cream was added to create the second style of chowder.
     Modern red broth chowders originated in Portugal, but seafood stews were part of Mesoamerican cuisine long before the europeans showed up.  After the colombian exchange took place, new world ingredients, like tomato and chiles, were added to traditional Portuguese seafood caldeirada recipes.  Manhattan clam chowder is basically a Portuguese style chowder.
     Rhode Island has a large population of Portuguese people.  A Portuguese style plain tomato broth clam chowder with potatoes and nothing extra added is a traditional Rhode Island chowder that is popular with tourists.  South County Style Rhode Island Clam Chowder has a reputation for being the favorite of the local people.  Both Rhode Island chowder versions are simple basic broth chowders, with no extra ingredients added.  Both Rhode Island chowders feature quahog clams.
     Quahog clams are medium small size surf and bay clams that have round rock hard shells.  Quahog clams are often sold as little neck clams.  Little neck, large neck and cherrystone clams are basically all the same breed of clam and the name is usually just an indicator of the size of the clam.  Quahog clams are often used to make Boston Chowder and Maine Chowder.  Raw quahog clam meat is a tan gray color and it is very tender.  These little clams do contain a lot of clam juice, so they create a rich tasting broth.
     For an official Rhode Island clam chowder, only quahogs can be used.  If the tag on fresh little neck clams states that the origin of the clams come from waters near Rhode Island, then the little neck clams are more than likely quahogs.
     In places that are far removed from the ocean, finding good fresh clams is not easy to do.  Seafood markets do have a well trained staff and so do commercial purveyors.  Seafood markets away from the ocean often stock nice quality clams.  The only problem is that the price of the clams can be grossly inflated.  Regular grocery stores usually do not hire high quality seafood handlers, so the quality of the clams may be so poor, that they cannot even be given away for free.
     Canned clams are an option, for those who live far from the ocean.  Canned clams are often a poor quality product, but there are exceptions.  Some of the New England canned clams can be pretty good quality.  Canned baby clams from New England are often quahog clams.  A little bit of research on the internet can turn up information about the origin of clams that are in the can.  Sometimes the origin of the clams is printed right on the label.
     I actually found a can of New England cannery baby clams at a market in Las Vegas and the label said quahog clams.  After opening the can, I noticed that the clams and broth really looked good and the color was natural.  In fact, the clams and broth looked as good as the start of the clam chowder that we used to make in Maine, before adding milk.  The aroma was fresh and it did not smell like it was overcooked.  The clams were small and they looked like small cooked quahog clams, so the description on the label was accurate.  I am rarely pleased with a canned clam product, but this one was nice.  Sometimes it pays to take a chance when shopping.
     Hard Tack, Sea Biscuits and Oyster Crackers:
     A few chowders in New England are only thickened with oyster crackers or saltines.  Usually the customer crumbles the crackers into the soup at the table.  Some chowder recipes specify adding crushed oyster crackers during the cooking process, just like how flour is added to the pork grease in the pot to create a roux.
     Both Hard Tack and Sea Biscuits were originally designed for durability and they both had a firm hard texture.  American hard tack often contained plenty of suet and corn meal.  Salt dough sea biscuits contained no suet and no corn meal.  Hard tack was usually cut into rectangular shapes.  Sea biscuits were originally cut into thick round shapes.  Sea biscuits were as hard as an oyster shell, but they rarely spoiled while on ship at sea.  The salt acted as a preservative.  Old time sea biscuits that were stowed on seagoing tall ships were meant to be crushed before adding them to soup, chowder or stew.  Few sailors looked forward to eating plain sea biscuits, because they were so tough to chew.
     The original oyster crackers were modeled after sea biscuits and they were like miniature sea biscuits.  When oyster crackers became a manufactured item in the 1840's, they were made less dense than sea biscuits and they were marketed as a palatable cracker.  The original round or oval shaped oyster crackers resembled oyster shells.  Some oyster crackers were thin like a wafer and some were plump.  The size of an oyster cracker varied back then and some were nearly 2" wide.
     Modern pre-made packaged oyster crackers look like small round balls or flat hexagonal shapes.  The ball shape was created to ease manufacturing and to lessen the space required for storage.
     Oyster crackers are not really meant to be served on their own.  They are meant to be added whole or crushed to the broth of a soup or chowder.  Oyster crackers are always served with Rhode Island clam chowder and the best restaurants make their own oyster crackers.
     The plump old fashioned oyster crackers in the pictures were made fresh for today's recipe.  The trick to baking oyster crackers, so they become hard and crunchy, is to bake them slowly at a low temperature.  Perforating the crackers with holes or slashed indentations helps to release more moisture.  I usually crush my oyster crackers into a bowl of chowder, but I left the ones in the pictures whole, so they could be viewed.

     Old Fashioned Oyster Cracker Dough:
     This recipe makes enough oyster crackers for 1 or 2 bowls of chowder!
     Place 1/2 cup of bread flour in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder.
     Add 2 pinches of sea salt.
     Mix the dry ingredients.
     Cut 1 ounce of chilled lard into small pea size pieces.
     Sprinkle the lard pieces into the flour mixture, while constantly cutting with a pastry cutting tool or a thin wire whisk.  Cut the lard into the flour, till the flour looks like small grains of rice.
     Add 1 tablespoon of milk, while stirring with a spoon.
     Add 1 tablespoon of water, while stirring with a spoon.
     When a dense dough forms and starts to gather, scrape the dough off the spoon into the bowl.
     Knead the dough, till it becomes pliable and smooth.  Add a few drops of water if the dough looks too dry.
     Note:  Knead the dough for a minimal amount of time, or the finished crackers will be rock hard!
     Refrigerate the dough, till it becomes cold and stiff.
     Shaping Oyster Crackers:
     You can make oyster crackers so they have a refined shape, by rolling the dough flat on a flour dusted counter top.   The dough should be as thick as a cracker!  Perforate the dough sheet with small evenly spaced holes.  Cut the shapes with a knife or mini cookie cutter.  
     Tiny portions of dough can be rolled into ball or oval shapes and left like they are or they can be flattened.  Plump oval oyster crackers are usually scored with several slashes and they are not perforated.  Small ball shapes are usually left plain.

     Old Fashioned Oyster Crackers:
     Place the oyster cracker dough shapes on a parchment paper lined sheet pan.
     Bake in a 290º to 300º oven, till all of the moisture in the crackers evaporate and the crackers become crisp.  The crackers should be a pale color and not browned at all.  The crackers should feel very light when they are picked up.
     Set the oyster crackers aside.

     Rhode Island Clam Chowder - South County Style:
     This recipe makes 1 large bowl of chowder!
     Rhode Island Chowder is not thickened and bacon is used instead of salt pork.  The excess bacon grease can be drained off or a couple pinches of flour can be added, just to partially bind the bacon grease.  Do not add enough flour to create a roux, or the broth will become thick and that is not what Rhode Island Chowder is all about!
     Fresh quahog clams are best for this chowder.  Little neck clams that are harvested in New England are usually quahog clams.  About 15 small quahog clams is plenty for one bowl.  About 4 ounces of shucked clams is plenty.  Shuck the clams over a mixing bowl to capture the juices, if you use fresh quahog clams.
     Canned baby clams from New England canneries are usually small quahog clams.  Some brands are better than others.  A 10 ounce to 12 ounce can of baby clams contains a large proportion of clam juice.  The amount of clams in the can is usually enough for 2 to 3 bowls of chowder.  Again, a 4 ounce portion of clams is plenty.
      Heat a sauce pot over medium low heat.
      Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of chopped smoked bacon.
      Saute till the bacon become a golden brown color.
      Remove the pan from the heat.
      Tilt the pan and use a spoon to remove most of the bacon grease.
      Add 1 or 2 pinches of flour, to partially bind the remaining bacon grease in the pan.  (optional)
      Add 2 cups of clam juice.
      Add 1 cup of water.
      Add 1/2 of a bay leaf.
      Add 3/4 cup of medium diced peeled russet potato.
      Place the pot over medium high heat.
      Bring the liquid to a boil.
      Reduce the temperature to medium low heat.
      Add 3 to 4 ounces of chopped quahog clams or whole small quahog clams (baby clams).
      Add sea salt and black pepper.
      Simmer till the potatoes become tender.
      Skim off any excess bacon grease.
      After boiling and simmering, there should be a yield of 2 1/2 to 3 cups of chowder.
      Remove the piece of bay leaf.
      Ladle the Rhode Island South County Style Chowder into a shallow soup bowl.
      Serve with the old fashioned oyster crackers.

      Rhode Island Clam Chowder is one of life's simple pleasures.  Yum!

Best Shoe Repair, Las Vegas!     
     From Rhode Island back to the west!  Last summer, I worked in a historic luxury resort in Death Valley.  My steel toe kitchen shoes already had one year of mileage on them from attending chef school.  While working in the Death Valley kitchen, the pads inside the shoes wore flat and my feet ached after each shift.  There are no shoe repair shops within 75 miles of Death Valley, so I waited for a day off to bring the doggies back to Las Vegas, where I could get them repaired.  
      As every chef knows, high quality steel toe professional kitchen shoes cost well over $200 per pair.  High quality kitchen shoes last a long time and they can be repaired.  Considering that the average chef walks nearly twenty miles a day inside of a restaurant kitchen, good padding inside the shoes is a must. Store bought slip-in pads are not the answer, when the original shoe pads wear out.  Store bought slip-in shoe pads actually wear out after only a couple days under heavy duty restaurant conditions.  The answer is to let an expert shoemaker install top quality pads!  
     I seem to have a knack for selecting good shops and I certainly found a great shoe repair shop in Las Vegas.  Best Shoe Repair in Las Vegas is a top notch shop!  
     My steel toe kitchen shoes were dropped off at 1:00PM and they were repaired by 4:00PM the same day.  That is fast!  Top quality leather wrapped shoe pads were installed in the shoes.  Many shoe repair shops use cloth wrapped foam rubber pads and those cheap pads do not last more than a few months.  Leather wrapped shoe pads last for years, so they are the best choice.  
     Needless to say, I was pleased with the craftsmanship at Best Shoe Repair.  My kitchen shoes felt as comfortable as a Cadillac!   
     I noticed that the leather repairmen in the shop were busy with a steady flow of shoe, luggage and purse repair jobs.  Apparently Best Shoe Repair is heavily recommended by concierges on the Las Vegas Strip and at internet sites.  The quality of their repair work is way above par, so I could see why customers were sent to Best Shoe Repair.
     Best Shoe Repair is located at 1120 South Rainbow in a plaza at the intersection of Charleston in Las Vegas.  The manager of the shop is upbeat, friendly and he has a great sense of quality.  The repair prices are reasonable and the work gets done fast.  Highly recommended!  ...  Shawna

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