NOTE: An updated version of this recipe appears in my cookbook, The Ancestral Table.
Chowders get their name from the French word “chaudière” (kettle, pot), which in turn is derived from the Latin “caldāria” (cauldron). There’s quite a rivalry regarding the white, creamy New England Clam Chowder and the clear, tomato-based Manhattan Clam Chowder – in fact, a bill was introduced into the Maine legislature in 1939 attempting to make it illegal to add tomatoes to clam chowder.
Here’s another interesting fact – it wasn’t until the Second Vatican Council during the 1960s that Catholics were permitted to eat meat on Fridays (the abstinence period has been reduced to Lent now). To provide a seafood option to Catholics, restaurants across the country served clam chowder on Fridays, and the tradition remains today.
Creating a hearty, traditional wheat-free chowder is quite a challenge, since they are usually thickened with flour or soup crackers. Using starchy russet potatoes would naturally thicken the chowder, but also leave you with disintegrated potatoes. And then it struck me: I can cook the chowder using sturdier red potatoes, and thicken it with potato starch – leaving us with the best of both worlds.