Rinse the clams with cold water and scrub them clean. Open the clams. It will be much easier, for this recipe, to freeze the clams overnight, and then let them thaw in a bowl (to catch any juices). In one or two hours out of the freezer, the clam will open slightly, so it is very easy to get a knife blade between the shells. Open the clams over a clean bowl, and save all the juices. Open the clams by slipping a knife inside the shell and cutting the two adductor muscles at either side. Take care not to cut yourself. I advocate the use of protective gloves.
After you have cut them, you can open the shell and twist the top off. Then cut the adductor muscles under the clam, freeing the body from the shell. Let it go in the bowl. A fuller description of opening clams is given under the recipe for Clams on the Half shell. Remove the clams from the bowl by pouring all through a strainer into another bowl. This separates the clams from the liquor and catches any shell fragments.
Cut up the clams. The clams will be very easy to chop while in this semifrozen state. First julienne the lip of the clam to remove it and then remove any portions of the adductor muscles. These go together on a "tough" pile, and often represent as much as half of the weight of the clam bodies. Chop these very fine, as fine as you can. Now cut the clam bodies into small dice.
Strain the clam juice once more into the second bowl. As you do this, keep your eye on the last bit, which may have sand or shell bits. Discard any sand or shell. Add all the chopped clam bodies and tough parts back to the now well strained juice. You should get a quart of chopped clams and their liquor from a dozen chowder clams weighing three pounds or better.
Add the celery tops to the milk, bring just to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
While the celery is simmering, melt the butter on a slow fire. Cook the garlic and pepper in the butter to soften but not brown. Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon to make a roux. Strain the milk, discard the celery tops, and cool a little. Add the milk with constant stirring.* Bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon. Cut back to a simmer. Add the water and wine, and simmer 5 minutes Add the chopped clams and clam liquor and cook on a slow fire until heated through. Never allow it to boil. When the chopped clams are done, add the cream and allow it to stay, just below the simmer. Stir frequently while cooking and simmering. You most likely won't want any salt, but you may like a little more pepper.
* When adding hot milk to a hot roux, we are breaking a rule and risking lumps. The roux and the liquid should be of dissimilar temperatures. Whip hard and if you cooled the milk a little, you may avoid lumps.
Serve in cups, and garnish with some chopped leaves from the heart of celery, and a pinch of very red hot paprika or a tiny pinch of cayenne.
Notes: If you are not a big fan of garlic, this is the wrong soup for you. You can cut back the garlic to 1/4 the stated amount, for a less robust taste. To call this a bisque is a misnomer. A bisque is a Veloute of shellfish, based on a Bordelaise mirepoix, and flamed with brandy. This soup is almost none of that, and yet where I learned to make it this way, it is always called a bisque. When properly made, this soup is of a nice consistency to bake fish in. If you have the old baked codfish blah's, baking the cod steaks in this soup as a sauce will wake your mouth up.
© 1996, Steve K. Holzinger. All rights reserved.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.
Modified July 2007
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