There is not much variation among recipes for Minorcan clam chowder; the choices of vegetables included may vary a bit, and some recipes may call for salt pork instead of bacon. But all include a single bummer of a caveat: If it doesn’t include actual datil peppers from St. Augustine, it’s not the real deal. I hate recipes like that.
My version is a composite of several recipes. The recipe below makes two changes from some of the "authentic" recipes I’ve seen. First, most recipes add the clams close to the beginning of the cooking process, cooking them -- along with the vegetables and seasonings -- for an hour or more. I don’t want my poor little clams reduced to shriveled bits of rubber, so I prefer to add mine at the end of the cooking process.
Second, given that a vast majority of the world’s population lives nowhere near St. Augustine, I offer a pragmatically serviceable alternative to datil peppers: habanero chiles, which are closely related to them and very similar in appearance and (kick-ass) heat level. Like datils, habaneros have an alluring tropical fruit aroma -- just not the same one. But if you can beg, borrow or steal a datil, do it; you won’t regret it.
- 2 strips thick-cut bacon
- 2 cups diced onion
- ½ cup diced green bell pepper
- 2 dozen fresh clams
- 1 datil (or habanero) pepper, minced (use half a pepper if you’re heat shy)
- 1 15-ounce can chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 bay leaf, crumbled
- 1 8-ounce bottle clam juice
- 2 cups fish stock
- 1 cup diced new potatoes
- Cook the bacon in a soup pot. When the bacon is cooked and its fat has rendered out, remove the bacon and chop it finely.
- Add the onion and bell pepper to the soup pot and cook in the bacon fat until softened.
- Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, seasonings, clam juice and fish stock to the pot and simmer the mixture for an hour to blend the flavors.
- Prepare the clams: scrub them carefully (if the shells aren’t already clean), then place them in a large pan over medium high heat. Cover the pan and cook until the shells pop open. Remove the meat from the shells and set aside. If the clams are large (more than one bite), chop them; otherwise, leave them whole. Strain and reserve any juice from the clams.
- Add the diced potatoes and any strained clam juice to the soup pot and cook until the potatoes are tender.
- Add the clams and cook a few minutes more, just until the clams are heated through. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Can be served immediately, but some feel it’s better if made the day before and reheated later, once the flavors have melded even further.