by the handful

Nutritious culinary and healing recipes collected from the North American garden, orchard, forest, river and ocean

Purple Varnish Clam Chowder

Clam Chowder is not typically made with fresh clams (too expensive) however if you are able to gather a whole bunch of clams straight from the beach why not take advantage. You probably either eat whole clams dipped in butter or in clam chowder as bits n’ pieces that came from a can. In the recipe, hopefully the best of both worlds is exactly what we are doing here. The Purple Varnish Clam is an invasive species on the west coast and the best way to get rid of them is to eat them one by one. The limit for these clams may vary from place to place but it is usually pretty high. These clams are very easy to find and dig up in large quantities compared to many others. They are not typically sold in stores or markets that I am aware of so you will probably have to go get ’em yourself. They have a slightly purple tint on the outside of their shells which varies mostly dependent on the lighting however the insides of the shells are quite purple. They are a small clam but are found in huge groups making it easy to dig up a whole bunch at one time*. Let’s make a creamy style clam chowder, which really sounds good in the winter. This recipe is very bare bones as it’s my thinking that fewer ingredients are the best method overall for sustainable recipes. But feel free to add in the typical extras (bacon of course) if you like, it’s easy to do.

Purple Varnish Clam Chowder

2 lbs cleaned (approx 80) Purple Varnish, Razor or Manila clams 

1.5 Ibs red potatoes peeled & cubed

1 stock celery minced

small (like seriously small) yellow onion minced 

real butter

1/4 cup white rice flour 

1/4 cup + an extra glug of Sherry cooking wine (sub white wine)

4 cups chicken, fish, or vegetable stock

1 cup whole milk




Add 2 tbsp butter to a large pot and bring heat to med-high. When butter begins to froth add the onion, turn heat down to med. Once the onion begins browning, add celery and cook for 3 to 5 minutes more. Lower heat if onion continues to brown.

Add the rice flour by sifting it over the vegetables and stir in to mix and break up any clumps.

Add the Sherry and whisk to mix into the flour which will form a paste. Next, add the stock a cup at a time and continue to mix together with a whisk making sure the flour mix comes off the bottom of pot and mixes in evenly.

Add the cubed potatoes, a tsp of salt and bring to a simmer, reduce heat to lowest temperature and cover. Cook for 25 minutes.

Remove pot from heat and remove lid. Use a wooden spoon to stir it up, allowing the potatoes to mash a little bit more and scrape the bottom of pot which will thicken up the soup properly. Add the milk and continue to stir.

Move a deep sided skillet onto already heated burner and add about 1 inch of water and a glug of the Sherry wine then bring to a boil.

Add the clams and cook until they just open (usually at the most a minute or two) once the water reaches a simmer. As soon as they open begin to remove them either one by one as they open with tongs or just strain the skillet directly. Set clams on a cutting board. Let them cool just long enough to be able to remove all the clam meat. A butter knife can help to pull them away from the shell. Be careful to get them out whole without breaking up the meat. Stir the clams into the chowder. An option is to leave a few clams per bowl in their shells as a garnish for the soup. 

Ladle chowder into bowls. Add one tab of butter to each bowl, chopped chives and a sprinkle of paprika.

Recipe makes ahhh lets say, bout 4 lunch size or appetizer portions

*Clamming is usually open year round in the Pacific Northwest and it’s pretty easy to find clam harvest information. You will want to keep track of the local tide schedule and go out when it’s low tide, of course. There is usually a small license fee for adults and kid permits are free.  After harvesting the clams, a good way to begin the cleaning process is to add enough seawater to a bucket to cover the clams and allow them to sit overnight. Otherwise, when you get them home cover them with cold water and do the same. Next, just remove one clam at a time and rinse under cold water. Make a pile on a towel or place in a colander.


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