What’s Manhattan Clam Chowder?

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Manhattan clam chowder is a tomato-based soup with clear stock, vegetables, and clams. It originated from an Italian soup and was renamed in the early 1900s. The soup can elicit extreme reactions, and the trick is not to overcook the clams. The soup is made by steaming clams, cooking vegetables, and adding spices. In 1939, there was an attempt to ban tomatoes in soups, possibly inspired by Manhattan clam chowder.

Manhattan clam chowder is a chowder made with clear stock, spices, greens, tomatoes, and clams. This distinctive soup is nothing like its creamier New England cousin, which can sometimes lead to confusion and disappointment. Manhattan clam chowder is often served in restaurants in New York City, Rhode Island and neighboring states, and is also produced in some regions.

The history of this dish is quite intriguing. It appears to be an adaptation of an Italian soup that was renamed “zuppa” to capitalize on the fondness for creamy soups that arose in the 18th century. New England-style clam chowder, which includes clams, cream, and potatoes, was very popular in the mid-1800s, when advertisements for “Coney Island Chowder” or “Red Chowder” began popping up; In the early 1900s, this interesting soup was renamed for the New York City borough of Manhattan.

This tomato soup tends to elicit extreme reactions from consumers. Some people hate it; famed cook James Beard, for example, wrote quite luridly about Manhattan clam chowder, while some New York residents prefer this chowder to the New England version. Either way, the trick with Manhattan clam chowder, just like New England style, is not to overcook the clams; if the clams are left too long, they become rubbery and quite unpalatable.

Manhattan clam chowder is made in a clear broth. Typically cooks start by steaming the clams and reserving some of the juices before cooking the onion, bacon, and celery in a pan. The juices are used to deglaze the pan and mixed vegetables, including tomatoes, are added. Once the vegetables are fully cooked, the clams are added and the soup is cooked for a moment to bring the clams up to temperature before serving. Classic spices for Manhattan clam chowder include thyme, oregano, and pepper, giving away its Italian origins.

One of this soup’s most interesting claims to fame arose in 1939, when an Assemblyman in the state of Maine attempted to ban the introduction of tomatoes in soups. Congressman Seeder was allegedly thinking of Manhattan clam chowder when he attempted to pass this bill, which failed to pass. Unfortunately, this fascinating story is hard to verify; it’s possible that Seeder never existed, and if he did, he may not have bothered with soup legislation, but the tale illustrates the debate raging over Manhattan clam chowder.

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