Making the case for Manhattan clam chowder, with recipe

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

In the clam chowder wars, I choose to remain neutral. Whether cream or tomato based, both are fine with me.

Although I have food preferences, I certainly wouldn’t have gone the route of Cleveland Sleeper, a state representative from Maine. In 1939 he tried to introduce a bill that would prohibit the use of tomatoes in clam chowder. Not surpisingly, the bill never made it to the legislature.

James Beard, the famed cook, also joined the clam chowder wars, saying that Manhattan clam chowder “resembles a vegetable soup that accidentally had some clams dumped into it.” Humble cook that I am, I beg to differ.

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Despite the popularity of New England clam chowder, the tomato-based version has its fans. Manhattan clam chowder has some history attached to it. With New York’s large Italian and Portuguese immigrant populations, it was natural that seafood would be wedded with tomatoes. In 1889, Alessandro Filippini, the chef du maison at the legendary Delmonico’s restaurant in New York City, included a recipe for it in his cookbook. Popularized by that fine dining establisment, it became a staple throughout the area.

Below is my version of the Delmonico’s recipe. My first impulse was to go with clams in the shell, but the high price tag convinced me otherwise. Instead, I purchased fresh shelled clams. With a nod to the Lenten season, I omitted the usual addition of bacon and added a teaspoon of smoked paprika.

The tomato-based Manhattan clam chowder often doesn’t get as much love as its cream-based New England counterpart, but this recipe adapted from Delmonico’s could make you a believer.

Manhattan Clam Chowder

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 4 cups diced potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes with juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • A few grindings of pepper
  • 8 ounces clam juice
  • 1 pound chopped fresh clams
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion, and saute until the onion has softened. Add the smoked paprika and cook for a minute or so more.

Add the carrots, celery, potatoes, thyme, bay leaf, tomatoes, salt and pepper, and clam juice. Bring to a boil, then cover and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook covered for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. Add the chopped clams and parsley, and simmer for 5 minutes more before serving.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.