How tomato-based chowder became known as Manhattan-style is disputed. Some believe it came from the throng of Italian immigrants in New York; others say the most likely explanation is an influx of Portuguese immigrants in the fishing communities of Rhode Island.
Alessandro Filippini, chef du maison from 1849 to 1863 at Delmonico's in New York, wrote a cookbook in 1889 called “The Table: How to Buy Food, How to Cook It, and How to Serve It” for home cooks. In the book he included a recipe for clam chowder that used tomatoes instead of milk or cream. Five years later, French chef and fellow Delmonico's alum Charles Ranhofer included a recipe called Chowder de Lucines in his cookbook “The Epicurean: A Complete Treatise of Analytical & Practical Studies” that also substituted tomatoes for milk.
In “The Book of Chowder” (Harvard Common Press, 1978), Richard J. Hooker suggests Manhattan clam chowder was among the offerings served at Coney Island food stands in the late 19th century.
Regardless of which origin you believe, the dish known as Coney Island Clam Chowder or Fulton Fish Market Clam Chowder was an abomination to the simple country folk of New England, who derisively referred to the nouvelle chowder as “Manhattan-style” since nothing of quality came from New York.
By the beginning of the Great Depression the name had stuck, and New Yorkers were plenty pleased to have chowder of their own to bandy about. Legend has it a Maine lawmaker once introduced a bill in February 1939 to make the entrance of a tomato into clam chowder illegal, only to have it voted down.
In my ceaseless attempt to celebrate locals — especially over Yankees — I sourced a pair of local clam chowder recipes with equally divergent histories.
Chef John Bennett introduced fine dining to Oklahoma City at The Cellar at Hightower as Beatlemania was first breaking out. Bennett told me New England clam chowder was a best-seller along with a half Reuben sandwich on the lunch menu. He recreated the dish for a Cellar retrospective at the Paseo Grill a couple of winters ago, and it was immediately apparent why the dish had been so popular. Bennett was kind enough to share the recipe with us.
For my Manhattan recipe, I dug into The Oklahoman archives to find an award-winning recipe from Irma Howard, of Tonkawa. Howard was 75 when she entered her recipe into a Melba's Swap Shop contest. Irma was a go-getter, saying she had only taken up cooking in her 70s. Irma, for whom a scholarship is named at Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, won $150 for her 1983 entry. She died in 1993 at age 84.
For our recipes, we're calling for canned clams because they are easier to get; however, fresh clams are much easier to find now than ever. Between Avalon, Gulfport, The Meat House, Whole Foods fresh clams are within reach.
Who will reach for the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday? The game looks like a pick 'em if ever there was one. The Giants are the hotter team and sport the superior defense, but the Patriots have three titles and Tom Brady. In other words, it stacks up similarly to the 2008 matchup, though the teams are much different. My eyes tell me take the Giants in a high-scoring affair, but it wouldn't be any surprise to see Heritage Hall-alum Wes Welker catch a short touchdown pass over the middle in the waning moments to win title No. 4 for New England and strike a blow for white clam chowder to boot.