standing letters

With so much bad news lately I decided it was time for a light-hearted opinion. Every summer my wife and I conduct our annual Summer Chowder Quest. We have made it our unofficial duty to taste-test local chowders and find the one we like best.

But first our qualifications. Really none except having spent 35 years in Massachusetts where I worked, and where we got to taste some fantastic chowders. So we kinda got “a nose,” or should I say “a palette” for this regional delight.

And what criteria do we use? First of all it has to be New England Clam Chowder, yes the milky sort. Manhattan and Rhode Island chowders are not in the running.(Explanation later.)

Second, the liquid the chowder is made with. Thick chowder is definitely out. Why? Because it has been thickened with something other than cream, usually flour or corn starch. The broth should be creamy and smooth, with the consistency of maple syrup. Not so thick you can stand a spoon upright in it.

Third, there has to be a good amount of clams you can see and taste. Sometimes I think chefs just wave a clam over the pot.

Lastly the absolute disqualifier is chowder with some kind of “spicey” additive that burns the tongue. I think maybe red hot spice is added to some I have tried.

Now about Rhode Island chowder and Manhattan chowder. I was raised on the red chowder and, quite frankly, I really like it, as long as there is no “hot” spice added. Rhode Island chowder is definitely out. Why? When I was a boy mom would make me drink clam juice as a laxative. So I have tried the Rhode Island clear chowder and just had bad flashbacks.

As for our quest, we are still on it and have not yet found the “perfect chowder.” There are some very good ones out there, but, we are only halfway through summer. So we are hopeful. Any recommendations?

Paul Rondina


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