Kiwi Clam Chowdah

Happy as Clams: This twist on New England Clam Chowder brings elements of home all the way to New Zealand.

Kiwi Clam Chowdah

Lynda Morris Childress

Throughout our Pacific crossing on Namani, our Dufour 35, we not only became more accomplished sailors, but better foragers too. From fishing to gathering coconuts, wild limes and juicy mangoes, we learned to provide for ourselves. In New Zealand, however, we found a promised land: It's a magical place where supermarkets and chandlers could once again be counted on to provide exactly what we wanted, when we wanted it. Yet just a few weeks after our arrival in this lovely corner of the world, we found ourselves foraging again — this time for sheer pleasure.

We were at Great Mercury Island, a pastoral 4-mile-long swath of green dotted with white sheep just 65 miles outside Auckland. Namani was one of only two boats anchored off a long, golden arc of sand, the perfect place to gather local pipi and tuatua clams. Standing in ankle-deep water, we plunged our hands into the loose sand, groped around, and soon had a harvest of clams sitting happy as — well, clams! — in our bucket, destined for our galley and our rumbling stomachs.

New Zealand often reminded us of our home waters of New England — more for the quiet, easygoing feel of the place than any similarity in landscape. In tribute, we dubbed our dinner Kiwi Clam Chowdah, putting a twist on a traditional recipe by using a local beer instead of wine as a base. With the sun setting over the rugged landscape of the Coromandel Peninsula to the west and the spectacular windward cliffs of Great Mercury to the east, we savored every spoonful of this hearty, fulfilling soup.

Kiwi Clam Chowdah
Ingredients:
2 cups clam meat*
1 12-ounce bottle dark beer
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 strips bacon, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil or
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium potatoes, cubed
4 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups pan broth
2 cups milk or light cream
3 tablespoons flour

*The number of whole clams you’ll need for this will depend on the type of clam.

Steps:
Soak clams in salt water mixed with cornmeal for two to four hours to help remove sand. Rinse and clean the clams, then steam in half the beer until shells open. Remove clams and cool; reserve broth in pan. Remove meat from shells and chop coarsely. Fry onions and bacon in oil or butter until onions are golden. Pour away excess fat and add broth from pan plus remaining beer to make two cups. Add potatoes, clam meat and thyme leaves; salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil; simmer for about 15 minutes, or until potatoes are done. Stir in the milk or cream. To thicken soup, dissolve flour in a bit of water to make a paste and stir in slowly. Simmer briefly and serve. Serves four.

Tips for Cleaning Clams
by Lynda Morris Childress
If you don't want to spend the time to clean clams using Nadine's cornmeal trick, here's a faster way:
1. Sort through the clams and discard any with broken or cracked shells.
2. Place the clams in a clean bucket and fill with fresh water to cover. Soak the clams for at least 20 minutes. As the clams breathe, they will filter sand from their shells.
3. Remove clams from bucket, one by one, and set aside. The filtered sand will be at the bottom of the bucket; do not pour soaking water over clams.
4. Use a scrub brush to remove any additional sand or other material clinging to the shells. Rinse. The clams are ready for cooking!