My boyfriend doesn’t like bivalves. Clams, mussels, oysters–he thinks they’re strange and unpleasant to eat. When we order paella at a restaurant, he carefully picks out every nugget of meat and places them all on my plate. He’s suspicious of cioppino, and bouillabaisse, and pretty much everything else that’s served with a cluster of shells poking out. And he has never in his life eaten clam chowder.
I, on the other hand, have been known to eat a pot of steamed clams for dinner and then drink the leftover liquid with a straw. (Don’t judge–you know you’ve always wanted to.) So this aversion of his is perplexing to me. But I love him, so I’m willing to play along. Which means getting creative sometimes. Like the day I started craving a good seafood chowder, and decided to make it with something he’d be happy to eat.
I love a good New England clam chowder as much as the next guy–creamy and gloopy and salty and rich, studded with potatoes and chewy nuggets of clam. But I was home, cooking for me and mine, and a whole lot of cream and starch didn’t sound fun. So I went with a Manhattan-style chowder, tomato-based and chunky with vegetables. And, inspired by a recipe in the Grey Lady herself, I decided to go full-on New York and flavor the chowder with lox instead of clams.
Once that happened, a whole cascade of tweaks presented themselves: red onion, dill, a scattering of capers and a little spike of horseradish. As it turns out, smoked salmon isn’t a perfect substitute for clams in a chowder, but it’s flavorful and fun in its own right. Exposed to a brief simmer, the fish turns firm and flaky, and the caper-horseradish spike at the end helps boost the flavor of the soup beyond the usual tomato-herb thing.
Because this is San Francisco, and bread bowls are our birthright, I hollowed out a couple little sourdough loaves and spooned the soup into the hollows. We gobbled every last morsel of chowder with our spoons, then tore the crispy-soggy bowls apart with our hands. There’s really nothing better than that.
Manhattan Lox Chowder (serves 6-8)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium red onion, diced
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 medium carrots, trimmed and diced
2 large celery stalks, trimmed and diced
1 lb red-skinned potatoes, diced
2 large or 4 small garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried dill
1/2 tsp crushed red chili flake, or to taste
2 tbsp all-purpose flour (optional)
1 cup dry white wine
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
4 cups (1 quart/32 oz) seafood stock, clam juice, or vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
4 oz smoked salmon (lox), flaked with a fork
1 tbsp drained capers
3/4 tsp prepared horseradish (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Lemon wedges for serving
Heat olive oil in a stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper, carrot, celery, potatoes, and a pinch of salt, and sweat for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is translucent and the vegetables are starting to soften. Add garlic, oregano, dill, and crushed red chili, and cook for another 30 seconds to a minute, or until the garlic is fragrant.
Optional step: Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables, and stir to coat the flour with oil. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3-5 minutes, or until the roux is golden and nutty-smelling.
Add white wine, tomatoes, stock or broth, and bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium- low and simmer, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. (At this point, the soup can be transferred to an airtight container and stashed in the fridge for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 4 months.)
Adjust the heat so that the soup is simmering but not boiling, and stir in lox, capers and horseradish (if using). Season with salt and pepper, then remove from the heat and ladle into bowls. Serve with lemon wedges to squeeze into the soup.