Almost everyone has a recipe for New England clam chowder. It’s served piping hot and perfect for taking the chill off of a cool evening in the fall. But have you ever considered serving it cold? When blended and served chilled, the chowder takes on the richness of a fancy vichyssoise.
Although vichyssoise sounds very French, is an American invention. A Frenchman by the name of Louie Diat created the soup for the Ritz Carlton in New York City during his tenure as the chef. He named the soup after Vichy, a town not far from his hometown of Montmaraut, France. In 1950 in an interview with The New Yorker magazine Diat said,
“In the summer of 1917, when I had been at the Ritz seven years, I reflected upon the potato and leek soup of my childhood which my mother and grandmother used to make. I recalled how during the summer my older brother and I used to cool it off by pouring in cold milk and how delicious it was. I resolved to make something of the sort for the patrons of the Ritz.”
Vichyssoise just might have been the soup that propelled American chef, host of No Reservations, and author Anthony (Tony) Bourdain into his highly successful food career. In his book Kitchen Confidential Tony describes vichyssoise as being the first food he ever really noticed and his first indication that food was something other than a substance one stuffed into one’s face when hungry. In the fourth grade young Tony was on a family vacation on board the Queen Mary bound for France when he ordered the soup. He says the crunch of the tiny chives and the pleasurable shock that the soup was cold to this day makes the word vichyssoise still have a magical ring to him. Now if only Tony would take on a campaign of instructing us how to correctly pronounce this rich, luscious soup of his childhood. It’s veeshee-swahze, not veshy-swah.
In this chowder, I’ve chosen to blend it and serve very cold, turning it into New England’s version of vichyssoise with clams. Packed in a thermos, it’s perfect for a summertime lunch at the beach or an elegant first course for a warm evening’s dinner party on the porch. Just don’t omit the sherry. It gives it that bit of French je n’est sais quoi that makes pronouncing veeshee-swahze all the more easier.
New England Clam Chowder à la Vichyssoise
Adapted from The Beach House Cookbook – serves 6
2 slices bacon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 cup water
1 cup bottled clam juice
1 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dried
3 medium Idaho potatoes, peeled and diced
Dash of hot sauce, such as Tabasco
1 (10oz) can whole baby clams
1 (6.5oz) can chopped or minced clams
1 cup whole milk
1 cup half-and-half
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons dry sherry
½ cup snipped chives for garnish
Fry the bacon in a large soup pot until cooked, but not crispy. Drain bacon, chop and reserve. Discard all but a tablespoon of the bacon fat. Add the butter to the bacon fat and melt over low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes.
Add 1 cup of water, the clam juice, wine, thyme, and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Puree the soup in batches in either a blender or food processor. Return to the pot and add the canned clams and their juices, the hot sauce, and the chopped bacon and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in milk, half-and-half, and salt and pepper to taste. Raise the heat to medium and, when the soup is just barely boiling, stir in the sherry. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator and serve very cold, garnished with the chives.
Cook’s note: Always taste anything served cold for seasonings. Cold dishes often require a bit more salt than hot ones. Feel free to blend the soup after the addition of the clams rather than before, which would make it creamier than my version.