Thursday, April 15, 2010

up the coast, part 1

The hubby and I decided to take a couple days off from work and head up the coast to check out some property in the central coast area. We couldn’t have picked a better time; the weather was cool and clear after a small rain storm the previous day. We got an early start, picked up my caffeine fix and pushed through the L.A. stop and go. But since we were getting away, even the traffic couldn’t faze us. We had our trusty map (which ended up not being so trusty after all) and a list of some highly rated food spots as well as days and times of some local farmers markets in the area that we wanted to check out.

Our first stop was in Pismo Beach which boasts of white sandy beaches, a Monarch Butterfly Grove, hiking trails of beautiful beaches with tide pools, coves and caves. But of course those were not the priority, no I had in mind a tasty bread bowl filled with a rich, creamy clam chowder from Splash Cafe.

Splash is famous for their clam chowder and apparently their recipe has been sought after from publications such as Gourmet and Bon Appetit but to no avail. You can order their chowder online, but if you are driving through, it is worth the stop. When you order the chowder, getting it in the bread bowl is the only way to go.  They cut out the center section of the sourdough boule, grill it up and serve along side the bread bowl for dipping. The chowder is thick and creamy with traces of potato and an underpinning of garlic. So good.

Since I’ve been back home, I have been thinking about the chowder, probably way too much. So I thought I would search out a recipe that might be a close match. This recipe from Restaurant Budd Bay Café in Olympia Washington is pretty darn close to Splash.  So if heading to Splash Café in Pismo Beach isn’t in your upcoming plans making this recipe could be a way to visit Splash vicariously.


Smokey Clam Chowder
Bon Appétit December 1996 Restaurant: Budd Bay Cafe; Olympia, Washington

1 pound russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup all purpose flour
6 8-ounce bottles clam juice
4 6 1/2-ounce cans chopped clams with juices
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh dill or 1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/4 teaspoon powdered garlic
1/8 teaspoon liquid smoke*
2 cups whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp. sherry for serving (optional)

Boil potatoes in large saucepan of salted water until just tender, about 6 minutes. Drain potatoes well.

Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add celery and onion and sauté until onion is translucent, about 6 minutes. Add flour and stir 2 minutes. Gradually mix in clam juice. Simmer until beginning to thicken, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Add clams with juices, parsley, thyme, marjoram, dill, garlic, liquid smoke and potatoes. Simmer 5 minutes to blend flavors. Add cream and milk. Bring to simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to simmer before serving.)

Optional:  One ingredient that really makes this chowder exceptional is to pour about a teaspoon of cream sherry on to the top of the chowder right at serving.  I prefer using Fino or Manzanilla which are both pale, straw colored. Both are excellent with seafood, mild cheese, fish or ham. The delicate crisp aroma and nutty flavor are a nice counter balance to the rich and creamy chowder.

*Liquid smoke is a smoke-flavored liquid seasoning available at specialty foods stores and many supermarkets.

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