Food Dude: Super Sunday deserves a Super Bowl of clam chowder

The Food Dude Dave Cathey explains why more than hardware will be on the line on Super Bowl Sunday. The battle off the field will pit Manhattan clam chowder against New England clam chowder.
by Dave Cathey Published: February 1, 2012
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“When that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh, sweet friends! Hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazelnuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt. Our appetites being sharpened by the frosty voyage, and in particular, Queequeg seeing his favorite fishing food before him, and the chowder being surpassingly excellent, we dispatched it with great expedition.”

— From “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville (1851)

New Yorkers and New Englanders have found myriad reasons not to get along, from the “Curse of the Bambino” in baseball to the upcoming Super Bowl rematch Sunday.

The Giants and Patriots vie for NFL supremacy, renewing a battle first fought in 2008 and ending with the Gothamites' spoiling the perfect end to a perfect season for Tom Brady and his teammates. With a feud brewing that could be worthy of the West Virginia-Kentucky back country, it seems logical to watch it unfold with a bowl of the thing longest dividing the Northeastern seaboard: clam chowder.

The vitriol from their sports rivalries combined is barely the sum of the consternation a simple bowl of clam chowder can evoke from Beantown to the Big Apple.

New England clam chowder contains a combination of milk or cream with potatoes, onion, bacon or salt pork, flour and clams. Manhattan clam chowder is made of clear broth, tomatoes, potatoes, vegetables and clams.

A Life Magazine cookbook published in 1958 suggests New Englanders consider Manhattan's chowder to be “vegetable soup with clams drawn through it,” while New Yorkers consider white chowder a “stew worthy of infants or invalids.”

What better to serve for your Super Sunday than a tureen full of both and a whole bunch of oyster crackers so you can literally taste the rivalry?

Chowder in white

Like so many wars, the one raged over clam chowder is rooted in religion. Clam chowder was a Friday staple for restaurants where Catholicism was king and abstinence from eating meat was the rule on the last day of the workweek.

Original North American chowders date to the first arrival of Europeans. Corn chowder was one of the first true fusion dishes, a collision of corn and French-style soup.

The Union Oyster House has served New Englanders from Daniel Webster to the Kennedys since 1826. Noted as not only the oldest restaurant in Boston but the oldest restaurant in continuous service in the U.S., The Union has served clam chowder since at least 1836. The chowder served there represented an evolution that began as soon as Plymouth Rock became a boat dock. Clams were plentiful and used for everything from snack to feed. Like any popular ingredient, it was put through the paces. Soon, cream, potatoes and salt pork were the foundation. By the end of the 19th century, New England clam chowder was as common along the Atlantic as chicken-fried steak in Oklahoma today.

Author Joseph C. Lincoln, who waxed poetic about Cape Cod and its surroundings from 1902 until his death in 1944, once wrote: “A New England clam chowder, made as it should be, is a dish to preach about, to chant praises and sing hymns and burn incense before. To fight for. The Battle of Bunker Hill was fought for — or on — clam chowder; part of it at least, I am sure it was. It is as American as the Stars and Stripes, as patriotic as the national Anthem. It is ‘Yankee Doodle' in a kettle.”

The chowder in red

To understand New York's attitude toward New Englanders, consider the song “What a Waste” from the 1953 musical “Wonderful Town.” It describes a “kid from Cape Cod” who came to New York City to join the opera, “Sing Rigoletto his wish. At the Fulton Market now he yells ‘fish!'”

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by Dave Cathey
Food Editor
The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene.
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