It is February 25th and we are here to celebrate National ‘Clamless’ Chowder Day!
Clam chowder has long been a culinary classic, the perfect way to warm up on a cold winter’s day.
And while this famous dish traditionally combines clams (or other fish) in a rich cream or broth-style base, the good news is you can swap out all those ingredients for healthful plant-based alternatives.
We will share our favorite whole food plant-based ‘clamless’ chowder recipe in a minute but first, let’s discover a bit more about this venerable dish.
The History of Clam Chowder
The word ‘chowder’ has its roots in the Latin word ‘calderia’ which first meant ‘a place for warming things’ and then later was known as a cooking pot.
The word calderia also gave us the word cauldron, which is ‘chaudiere’ in French.
The Oxford English Dictionary traces the word ‘chowder’ to the fishing villages along the coast of France, from Bordeaux to Brittany, as well as the Cornwall region of southwestern England.
According to legend, when the ships returned from the sea, every village would stage a welcoming celebration, complete with a large ‘chaudiere,’ which was prepared in advance of the sailors’ return and ready to add the fresh fish they had caught.
By the middle of the 1800s, chowder had become a popular dish throughout the northeastern United States. Clams and shellfish were added to the chowder because they were so easy to find along the Eastern seaboard.
The Clash of Clam Chowder Recipes
In the United States, there are at least three main varieties of clam chowders depending on the region: New England Clam Chowder, Rhode Island Clam Chowder, and Manhattan Clam Chowder.
Not surprisingly, there is a raging feud between the regions as to which clam chowder recipe is really the ‘best,’ dubbed the ‘clam chowder wars.’
Here is a description of the three main contenders in the clam chowder contest:
- New England Clam Chowder: A thick cream-based soup that is made with potatoes, onion, and clams, and is often served with oyster crackers.
- Rhode Island Clam Chowder: Made with a clear broth, this chowder blends quahog clams, potatoes, onions, and bacon.
- Manhattan Clam Chowder: This version is famous for its tomato-based broth, which is then blended with clams, bacon, carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. The choice of a tomato-based broth has been controversial; in 1939 there was even a proposed bill which would have made tomatoes in clam chowder illegal!
The good news is that whatever recipe you prefer, you can adapt it to a plant-based version.
New England clam chowder can be prepared using leeks, potatoes, mushrooms (or palm hearts), and vegetable broth. By using nut milk and cashew cream, you can get the ‘creaminess’ of the traditional recipe, while kelp granules will help add that ‘sea-like’ taste.
If you are a Rhode Island clam chowder fan, simply skip the clams and bacon and use red potatoes, onions, celery, and vegetable stock instead. Once again kelp granules can be added to get the taste of the sea.
Finally, you can easily create a plant-based Manhattan chowder by using nori and creating a tomato base with a variety of plant-based ingredients: tomato paste, garlic, onion, red potato, vegetable stock, carrots, green peppers, mushrooms, and celery.
Here is my favorite plant-based clam chowder recipe by Chef Stefen Janke called Clamless Chowder. Once you taste this, you will never go back to the traditional version!
Happy National ‘Clamless’ Chowder Day to all.