EDMONDS — I’ve been a fan of clam chowder since I was a kid.
I’m from Nebraska, though, so most if not all of the chowder I ate growing up was from a can.
I know — I was a strange kid.
When I was invited to judge this year’s Clam Chowder Contest, I happily signed up. If I lend my chowder-tasting expertise, I get to taste 10 chowders made from scratch? Yes, please!
Ten local restaurants competed Feb. 24 for the title of “Best Chowder in Edmonds.” The Edmonds Chamber of Commerce hosts the annual cook-off featuring both traditional and innovative recipes. This was its third year.
Restaurants back to defend their titles in the Traditional and Cutting Edge categories were Salt & Iron and 190 Sunset, respectively.
Salt & Iron, 321 Main St., Edmonds, won both the Judge’s Choice and the People’s Choice awards for Best Traditional Chowder. Its seafood chowder adds in fresh salmon, scallops and sea bass. With its chowder reputation, it’s no wonder the steak and oyster restaurant swept the awards. It was the chowder that had me scraping the bowl.
The Judge’s Choice Award for Best Cutting Edge Chowder went to Chef Dane Catering, 19515 44th Ave. W., Lynnwood. Chef Dane’s Bourbon Street gumbo chowder puts a Northwest play on a Creole favorite. The catering company’s chowder had the best broth of the bunch. The best way to describe the soup? It was like Mardi Gras in my mouth.
The People’s Choice Award for Best Cutting Edge Chowder was awarded to Bar Dojo, 8404 Bowdoin Way, Edmonds, for its coconut red curry seafood chowder. The recipe was inspired by a popular Thai noodle soup on the Asian fusion restaurant’s menu. I loved the coconut and red curry flavors.
While it didn’t maintain its title, 190 Sunset, located at — you guessed it — 190 Sunset Ave., Edmonds, received honorable mention from yours truly for its red curry clam chowder. This one’s another Thai creation, but the soup stands on its own. While my fellow judges thought it was too spicy, I was impressed by its heat. I ate spicy spoonful after spicy spoonful.
Judges were instructed to rate each chowder from 0 to 100 points based on its seafood, texture and flavor. Here are the recipes for the top scorers, plus my honorable mention.
Salt & Iron’s seafood chowder
Make Salt & Iron’s award-winning chowder at home with this traditional recipe. Chef Alex Marek makes this chowder with a medley of salmon, scallops and sea bass — and, surprisingly, no clams — at the restaurant. For the chowder contest, however, Marek added shellfish to the recipe.
1 pound butter
1 pound onions finely diced
1 pound celery finely diced
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
¼ cup dill weed
1 cup flour
5 pounds russet potatoes, ⅝-inch dice (French fry punch is ⅝ inch)
1 pound salmon, chopped in ½-inch cubes
1 pound sea bass or other white fish, chopped in ½-inch cubes
8 scallops, chopped in ¼-inch dice
32 ounces diced clams, drained
1 quart heavy cream
1 quart half and half
1 quart seafood stock
In large stock pot, melt butter and add onions. Cook until translucent. Add celery and cook until soft. Add half seasonings to onion and celery mixture. Add flour to create roux. Cook roux for 2 minutes. Add heavy cream, slowly combining with roux. Add half and half and the fish stock.
In a separate pan, cook potatoes in butter until tender. Season with the remaining seasoning. In a separate pan, saute all seafood in butter until cooked. Add seafood and potatoes to stock pot and stir to combine. Taste and season accordingly.
Makes 12 servings.
Bourbon Street gumbo chowder
In this Mardi Gras-themed chowder, chef Dane Lee of Chef Dane Catering puts a Northwest play on a Creole favorite. He likes to serve his gumbo-infused chowder with a drizzle of bourbon simple syrup and a Tabasco bacon cracker. The syrup and cracker were omitted here for simplicity.
½ cup diced onion
½ cup diced carrot
½ cup diced celery
½ cup diced yellow bell pepper
½ cup diced russet potatoes
½ cup cooked bacon (reserve fat for roux)
1 cup chopped clam meat (reserve nectar for broth)
½ cup butter, split into two halves
½ cup dark roux (recipe below)
2 cups broth (recipe below)
1 cup cream mix (⅓ heavy whipping cream and ⅔ half and half)
For the dark roux:
¼ cup rendered bacon fat
¼ cup butter
½ cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
¼ teaspoon gumbo file powder
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
¼ teaspoon sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon chopped dried parsley
For the broth:
1 cup clam nectar
1 cup chicken stock
½ cup frozen cut okra
Deep fry diced potatoes until golden brown on edges. Finely chop bacon in food processor.
In heavy-bottom sauce pan on medium-high heat, add bacon bits, chopped clams, half the butter and vegetable mix and saute until tender.
Preparing the dark roux: Measure equal parts rendered bacon fat and butter and equal weight in flour. Cook slowly on low heat, stirring continuously until medium brown. This is a very important step because roux is touchy. Add seasonings and cook until fully incorporated. This mix will be quite dark when done. Makes about 1 cup roux.
Preparing the broth: Use equal parts reserved clam nectar and chicken stock. Add okra to the broth and bring to boil. This technique adds a nice sheen to the broth. Capture okra with strainer and add to vegetable mix. Makes about 2 cups of broth.
Add broth to roux and whisk until smooth. Add vegetable mix and stir to incorporate.
Add cream mix. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes stirring constantly. Adjust thickness to personal preference by adding more cream mix.
Sprinkle chopped chives on top of the chowder and serve with crackers. Makes 6 servings.
Prepare ahead of time: The chowder without the cream mix can be refrigerated for up to a week. Or keep it in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Red curry clam chowder
This Thai-inspired chowder is by chef Skyler Gemar of 190 Sunset. He looked at a jar of red curry paste and thought to himself, “That will be different.” Gemar combined his knowledge of Thai cuisine and traditional chowder to make this flavor-layered soup.
¼ cup bacon fat or canola oil
½ cup chopped onions
½ cup chopped celery
¼ cup chopped fennel
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
4 ounces lemongrass, cut in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons minced ginger
½ cup thinly sliced shallots
2 tablespoons minced ginger
½ cup fresh lime juice
½ cup chopped potatoes
½ cup corn kernels
3 tablespoons red curry paste (Mae Ploy or your favorite brand)
32 ounces clam broth
32 ounces tomato juice
16 ounces shrimp stock
14 ounces coconut milk
½ cup chopped clams
4 ounces crab meat
Sea salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
1 bunch chopped cilantro
4 ounces Thai basil, whole leaves
3 dried Thai chilies
Add the bacon fat or canola oil to a hot pan. Once hot and fat is “whispy,” add the vegetables. Saute to until cooked, about 4-5 minutes.
Deglaze with lime juice in parts. Add some lime juice and cook into veggies until almost dry. Add some more lime juice and repeat.
Add potatoes and mix in to fully incorporate.
Add red curry paste and saute. This opens the aroma and ingredients in the curry paste. Sauteing it and developing a fond deepens the flavor of the curry.
Add the clam broth, tomato juice and shrimp stock, a little at first to pull up any fond off of the pan. Add the rest and bring to boil.
Add the coconut milk, clams and crab. Simmer for 10 minutes to incorporate flavor.
Season to taste. Finish with fresh herbs and dried Thai chilies. Turn off heat and let sit for about 5 minutes before serving. This will help the cilantro and basil to infuse.
Serve with Thai ice tea to help cut the heat of the chowder.
Coconut red curry seafood chowder
This innovative chowder by chef Luis Brambila of Bar Dojo is inspired by a popular noodle soup on the Asian-fusion restaurant’s menu featuring coconut and red curry broth over rice noodles. Brambila decided to give that recipe a clam-chowder twist.
4 peeled and cubed russet potatoes
5 stalks chopped celery
¼ cup minced fennel
1 pound chopped onion
½ pound chopped pancetta
3 roasted red bell pepper
3 tablespoons paprika
½ pound unsalted butter
½ cup red curry paste
½ cup sake
20 ounces coconut milk
1 quart heavy cream
3 quarts vegetable or seafood stock
51-ounce can cooked sea clams (available online and at restaurant suppliers)
½ pound fresh bay scallops
½ pound shrimp
¼ cup cooked diced octopus
At medium heat, cook pancetta until crispy. Add butter, chopped onion, celery and paprika and cook for 10 minutes.
Stir occasionally add red curry paste, sake and stock. Add salt and pepper, cook for 10 minutes, then add seafood.
After 20 minutes, add cream, coconut milk and potatoes.
Turn off heat and let it cool for 15 to 20 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper and add more, if needed.
Add flour roux to desired thickness. For a gluten-free chowder, add cornstarch instead. Makes 6 to 8 servings (or 15 cups total).