Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Creamy Chowder in Boston

Bankers, brokers, and tourists bustle down the Boston streets once walked by British soldiers and colonial revolutionaries. In this vibrant modern city, preservation is the watchword for historic buildings and gastronomy alike. No one has truly experienced Boston without tasting its dearest culinary legacy: the rich, creamy, buttery broth known as New England clam chowder.

For all its modernity, Boston revels in its early history. Founded in 1630 as “a city on a hill,” Boston was the epicenter of American foment against British rule and the cradle of the American Revolution. On the Freedom Trail, the red-brick path that snakes 2½ miles (4 km) through the city linking its historic sites, 12 of the 16 buildings predate the Revolution and some stand cheek-by-jowl with glass skyscrapers. Visitors can enter the hall where patriots rallied for liberty and can even board the world’s most venerable active warship, USS Constitution, which bobs at anchor near the shipyard where it was constructed. In Boston’s theater district, new dramas unfold in the ornate interiors of some of America’s oldest active playhouses.
Although the first English settlers of New England dismissed clams as “the meanest of God’s blessings,” Left Sailboats add old-world charm to Boston’s modern waterfront by the 18th century clam chowder had become a mainstay of the region’s cuisine and a gastronomic benchmark for authentic Yankee cooking. Probably an offshoot of New England fish chowders – so named because they were made in large iron cauldrons, or chaudières, as French-speaking Newfoundland fishermen called them – clam chowder is a felicitous marriage of clams, onions, butter, and milk. Devotees disagree over whether the onion should be sautéed with salt pork or butter, and whether the chowder should be thickened with potato or ship’s crackers.

Even with such minor variations and controversies, creamy clam chowder is ubiquitous in Boston establishments, from hip new bistros to some of the oldest restaurants in the United States.
Clam chowder remains New England’s favorite comfort food – a savory, slightly salty, and perfectly silken antidote to a chill November day or a restorative pick-me-up after an afternoon cruising Boston Harbor.
In the perfect chowder, each little clam explodes with flavor against the rich backdrop of the broth.
Made from simple ingredients, it is one of the most democratic of luxuries. Historian Joseph C. Lincoln even deemed clam chowder “as American as the Stars and Stripes, as patriotic as the national anthem. It is ‘Yankee Doodle’ in a kettle.”

Best Places to Eat Clam Chowder

Union Oyster House

Opening in 1826 as Atwood and Bacon Oyster House, this venerable establishment is the oldest restaurant in Boston and the oldest eatery in continuous operation in the United States. Its semicircular oyster bar on the ground floor has been a favorite of Boston society since the days when famed orator and politician Daniel Webster (1782–1852) daily drank a brandy-and-water with every half-dozen raw oysters (he usually ate six plates). John F. Kennedy’s favorite wooden booth on the upper level is marked with a commemorative plaque.
Although the Union Oyster House is most celebrated for its raw seafood bar of clams and oysters, the chefs make a meaty clam chowder dotted with small, juicy cherrystone clams – a young hard-shell clam indigenous to the Massachusetts coast – in a perfect broth, neither too thick nor too thin. A frequent winner of various chowder contests, it is served as both an appetizer and a main dish. Departing from tradition, the restaurant serves its chowder with corncakes instead of crackers.
41 Union Street, Boston; open 11 AM–9:30 PM Sun–Thu, 11 AM–10 PM Fri & Sat;

Clam chowder, which is thought to have developed from a 16th-century French fish stew, la chaudrée

Also in Boston
Diners still eat at communal tables at Durgin- Park (; moderate), in the Faneuil Hall Marketplace, which opened to feed the hungry traders of the 19th-century Quincy Market. Its clam chowder is a bastion of Yankee taste. More modern but equal as a Boston gastronomic icon, Legal Sea Foods (; moderate) evolved from a fishmonger into a celebrated chain of restaurants. Its several Boston branches include one located near the Aquarium on State Street.
Also in New England
Captain Parker’s Pub in West Yarmouth, Massachusetts (; moderate) is famed for making Cape Cod’s finest clam chowder. Set in Rhode Island’s fishing port of Galilee, Champlin’s Seafood Restaurant (; moderate) makes both creamy New England chowder and the clear-broth Rhode Island variant. In South Norwalk, Connecticut, Sono Seaport Seafood (; moderate) is, like Champlin’s, both a fishmonger and a restaurant, and offers creamy New England and tomato-based Manhattan clam chowders.
Around the US
Bistro Boudin (415 351 5561; moderate), a restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, CA, merges two culinary icons by serving New England clam chowder in a loaf “bowl” of San Francisco sourdough bread.
Chowder Variants
In Boston, even the trendiest chef knows better than to mess with New England clam chowder, perhaps daring only to add a sprig of chervil or parsley to provide a spot of color in the milky sea of the bowl. But there are certain variants that appear in southern New England and elsewhere in the US. The rarest is the clear Rhode Island clam chowder – little more than clams and their steaming juices, butter, onion, and celery. The soup that most offends purists, however, is Manhattan clam chowder, a tomato-based vegetable soup to which clams are added, often served with cream to make a thick pink slurry.
Scoffed one New England travel writer in 1940: “Tomatoes and clams have no more affinity than ice cream and horseradish.”
A Day in Boston
Boston often seems more European than American, perhaps because it is a compact, walkable city where the streets meander pleasingly and buildings are mostly at human scale.
MORNING : Begin a spin through Boston history at Faneuil Hall, the 18th-century meeting house where brewer and political agitator Samuel Adams demanded independence from Great Britain. Adjacent are the long granite buildings of Quincy Market, built in the 1820s and now a lively center of shops and restaurants. Head to the waterfront to visit the fish, penguins, and seals of the New England Aquarium.
AFTERNOON : Book a harbor cruise at Long Wharf to admire Boston from its seaward side. Disembark in Charlestown to visit the world’s oldest commissioned warship, the 1797 wooden frigate USS Constitutionfa day, known affectionately as “Old Ironsides.”
EVENING : Check listings for a drama or comedy in the restored early-20th-century playhouses of the lively Theater District.

Getting There
Domestic and international airlines fly into Boston’s Logan International Airport. Boston is also served by Amtrak train from New York. The city has a combined public transport system of subway, trolleys, and buses known as the “T.”
Where can I stay ?
Constitution Inn (inexpensive) offers bargain accommodations near “Old Ironsides” at Charlestown.
Harborside Inn (moderate) occupies a former spice warehouse, just steps from Faneuil Hall marketplace.
Boston Harbor Hotel (expensive) is a showpiece of the revived waterfront.
148 Tremont Street;

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