In the mid-1800s, the large groups of Italians beginning arriving in New York, seeking to escape the poverty of southern Italy. Like all immigrant groups, they brought their culinary traditions with them including their love of bright red savory tomatoes.
Many of the men went to work as fishermen. Not for them was the pale white clam chowder of New England that they tasted aboard the Yankee fishing boats. To their taste it lacked the richness of their old homeland’s hardy soups.
In short, they felt it needed invigorating colorful tomatoes. When their grown sons and daughters later entered the Hospitality Industry in New York City as kitchen staff their modified chowder recipe came to the attention of the major restaurant chefs there.
The rich red chowder was an instant hit with the city’s sophisticated diners. The new chowder became so popular it was renamed “Manhattan Chowder”, sadly never crediting its original immigrant creators.
Manhattan’s “Italian” Clam Chowder
- 2 3⁄4 lb. Taylor Manila Clams (about 3 dozen
- 4 oz. salt pork, cut into 1⁄4-inch cubes
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 medium white onions, finely chopped
- 2 cups bottled clam juice
- 1 (28-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed by hand
- 2 1⁄4 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
- 4 oz. slab or thick-cut bacon, cut into 1⁄4-inch lardons
- 6 stalks celery, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, smashed and peeled
- 1 tbsp. finely chopped thyme
- 1 tsp. finely chopped marjoram
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Oyster crackers, for serving
- The day before you plan to serve the chowder, place the clams in a large colander and rinse with warm water for 30 seconds.
- Shuck the clams, discarding their shells, and roughly chop the meat by hand.
- Place the salt pork in an 8-qt. saucepan over medium-low heat.
- Cook the pork, stirring, until its fat renders, about 12 minutes.
- Add the bay leaves and half the onions and cook, stirring, until softened, 10 to 12 minutes.
- Pour the clam juice and tomatoes into the pan along with the chopped clams and bring to simmer.
- Cook, stirring occasionally, until the soup is reduced by one-third, about 1 hour.
- Stir in the potatoes and cook until tender, about 12 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and let the soup cool to room temperature.
- Remove and discard the bay leaves and refrigerate the chowder a few hours or overnight, or,
- alternatively, freeze up to one month.
- When ready to serve, remove the soup base from the refrigerator or defrost.
- Place the bacon in an 8-qt. saucepan over medium heat.
- Cook the bacon, stirring, until its fat renders, about 6 minutes.
- Add the remaining half of the onions, along with the celery and garlic, and cook, stirring, until softened,
- 10 to 12 minutes.
- Pour the defrosted soup base into the pan along with the thyme and marjoram, bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring, until warmed through, about 30 minutes.
- Remove the chowder from the heat and season with pepper.
- Ladle into bowls and serve with oyster crackers.