In 1939, a bill was introduced into the Maine legislature banning the inclusion of tomatoes in their classic creamy New England clam chowder. Banned. Officially. I can't help but admire such marked conviction over food, then wonder -- what about the addition of corn? And then, what if that corn, along with tender slices of onion, garlic and the subtle perfume of fresh tarragon, was simmered until soft, then pureed until silky and that formed the base of a new kind of clam chowder -- a clam chowder that's foundation is creamy without loads of added cream and subtly sweet, holding the juicy meat of briny clams, tender peeled potatoes and thin fennel slices. I'm sure they wouldn't approve, and I bet they'd swallow each spoonful in silent jubilee.
This recipe has many steps, true. But they're mostly done in tandem, and the end product is more than worth the effort.
Creamy Corn Chowder with Clams
4 ears of corn
2 1/2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoon butter, unsalted
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 quart chicken stock, warmed up
2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons fresh tarragon, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons lemon juice or verjus
4 small yellow potatoes
1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced lengthwise
3-pounds clams in their shells, scrubbed clean
1/4 cup heavy cream
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Fennel Pollen, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste
Shuck corn and remove kernels, slicing down the cob with a sharp knife, reserving the juice.
In a large pot over medium heat, add 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and the butter, allowing it to heat up before adding the sliced onion. Gently sauté the onions, lightly sweating them for about 5-6 minutes. Add the corn kernels, any juice you've reserved, and the sliced garlic to the pot, lightly sautéing another 5-6 minutes. Add the warm stock, salt, tarragon and lemon juice, then simmer on medium heat for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, fill a small pot with cold salted water, add the potatoes and bring to a boil, cooking until an inserted knife slips out easily, about 15-20 minutes. Drain, cool, peel and cut each potato into six small wedges (or four, if your potatoes are quite small).
In another medium pot over medium high heat, add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, allowing it to get hot before adding the sliced fennel. Sauté until lightly and sporadically browned, about 6-8 minutes. Add 1/4 cup water along with the clams, then cover the pot, steaming until the clams open, about 5 minutes. Remove the clams from their shells, discarding the shells, reserving the meat and setting it aside. Set the pot of fennel aside.
Returning to the corn: Remove it from the heat, then whirl it, a few ladles at a time, in a blender, streaming the 1/4 cup cream in and processing until it's as smooth as silk. Once processed, pour it through a strainer positioned above the pot with the fennel, pressing against the sides to get as much as possible through (the leftover bits of corn skin taste pretty delicious!).
Add the reserved clams and potatoes into the soup pot and bring everything to a medium low heat, seasoning to taste with the cayenne pepper, fennel pollen, black pepper and more salt, to taste. Serve.