June 27, 2018


New England Chowder: The King of Soups: From whaling captains to Anthony Bourdain, find out why this dish is a year-round staple in New England. (Joanne Chen, 06.20.18, Daily Beast)

Few chefs describe this more eloquently than Howard Mitcham in the legendary  Provincetown Seafood Cookbook, the 1975 cult classic that is being re-issued next week. More than just a list of recipes, it's part culinary history and part memoir. Mitcham's deep affection for Provincetown and the people who nourished its inhabitants, draws us in and makes chowder lovers of us all.

The latest edition of the book is true to the original, right down to the whimsical drawings in the margin by Mitcham's hand. What's new is also bittersweet: an introduction written just last fall by the late great Anthony Bourdain, who was handed this book at his first job in P-town as a cook. He calls it "one of the most influential in my life," which perhaps partly explains why he declares in his 2016 Appetites: A Cookbook that "there is only one chowder"--New England clam chowder, which he features in his book--and "all else is soup."

"Provincetown," as Mitcham puts it, is "the birthplace of the commercial fishing industry of the U.S.A. It's the seafood capital of the universe...the fishiest town in the world." Historically, a natural abundance and variety of sea creatures have lived off the shores of the Cape, which connect New Englanders to the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean and the rest of the world. As spring and summer near, the sun heats the waters, plankton flourish, herring come in to spawn, pogey and other baitfish move in as well, and larger species (tuna, swordfish, striped bass) follow them, explains Jasper White, chef and founder of Summer Shack, the acclaimed seafood concept with three locations in New England. Clams, too, feed on the plankton and grow faster this time of year; lobsters wake up from their quasi-hibernation.

Even before the advent of long-voyage ships and airplanes, clams enticed locals and visitors alike. As Mitcham tells it, "In the summer, thousands of mainland Indians would migrate to Cape Cod to bask in the sunshine and feed on the shellfish." And, there, they taught America's first immigrants--the Pilgrims--how to dig for clams. Thank goodness they did otherwise, says Mitcham, "they would all probably have starved to death that first hard winter."

Did I say clams? I meant "quahogs." Quahogs refer to a variety of Atlantic hard-shells, such as the cherrystone and littleneck, but it also refers to a specific large-size hard-shell that's also known as the chowder clam, which is, you guessed it, traditionally used to make chowder. (It's, of course, also the inspiration for the name of the fictional Rhode Island town that is the setting for the raunchy cartoon Family Guy.) These bivalves live just inches beneath the sand and are easily detected with bare toes as you walk along the shore.

Posted by at June 27, 2018 3:48 AM