As you know, I’ve been living in Bangkok, Thailand over the last few months, so I was extremely excited when I recently found a clam chowder recipe that is both familiar and exotic at the same time. Surprisingly, this is a “gluten-free” and “non-dairy” recipe. All the ingredients listed are staples in Bangkok, found at every corner market:
- Fresh lemongrass
- Kaffir lime leaves
- Thai red chilies
- Cilantro (also called coriander leaves)
- Coconut milk
These days, it should not be too difficult to find these ingredients where you live; it’s perfectly fine to substitute dried kifer lime leaves for the fresh ones or use the zest of a lime in its place when making the chowder. However, using fresh clams is a must! If you see that the clamshells are open at your local fish market, don’t buy them. You want the clams to still be alive when you take them home. Purchase the ones that are tightly closed and not cracked, packaged on ice before leaving the store.
The recipe I’m sharing doesn’t tell you this, but you should “purge” the clams before cooking them or else you will end up with a bowl full of sand! I found this out the hard way on my first attempt of making this recipe. You should allow at least 2-4 hours to soak the clams in advance. Just soak them in large bowl with cool tap water. The sand will be released and then you can drain and rinse them one more time before using.
How to Make Thai Clam Chowder
Here is the Thai Clam Chowder recipe from Tartine and Apron Strings:
- 2.2 pounds (1 kg, about 20-25 pcs) littleneck clams or pasta clams, washed and scrubbed
- 4 cups water
- 1 pound (545 g) white potatoes, peeled and roughly diced
- ½ cup (40 g) shallots, finely minced and divided
- 6 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 large stalk lemongrass, tough outer leaves removed, cut into thin rounds
- 3 red Thai chilies, finely sliced (optional, but use at least one)
- 1 2-inch piece of galanga (Thai ginger), unpeeled
- 6 pieces fresh or frozen Kaffir lime leaves, scored, or strips of peel from one lime
- ½ cup (125 ml) unsweetened coconut milk + more for thickening (do not stir the milk in the can)
- A handful of cilantro, finely chopped
- A few stalks of chives, snipped
- A few red Thai chilies, finely sliced
- Heat a pot large enough to hold the clams with your choice of oil. Sauté half the shallots (1/4 cup total), half the garlic (3 cloves), and half the amount of lemongrass over medium-low heat until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes.
- Turn heat to high then add water into the pot and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, place the clams in the pot, lower heat to medium, cover, and simmer until their shells open, about 10 to 12 minutes.
- Discard any unopened clams. Spoon the cooked clams aside (do not remove meat from shell) in a large bowl. Set all of the broth aside in a separate bowl or measuring cup (so you know how much liquid you have left, ideally, at least 3 cups). Wipe the pot clean for the next use.
- Meanwhile, cook the potatoes separately. In another pot, bring salted water to a boil. Make sure the amount of water is just enough to cover the potatoes. Boil the potatoes until soft, about 30 minutes.
- While the potatoes are cooking, place the remaining shallots, garlic, lemongrass, and red Thai chilies either in a food processor or mortar and pestle. Grind until a thick paste forms. Add some clam water to thicken, if you wish.
- When the potatoes are done, drain, and set aside saving about 1 cup of potato water.
- In the clam pot that was wiped clean, heat your choice of oil over high heat. When hot, lower heat to medium and add the spice paste you just made and stir. Add the galanga (Thai ginger) and lime leaves, still stirring continuously to prevent the paste from burning.
- Lower heat to medium-low and add to the spice paste a splash or two of the coconut cream that floats on top of the can. Keep stirring.
- Add the potatoes, clam broth and coconut milk, and simmer over medium heat for about 5 to 6 minutes.
- Using a hand blender or food processor, purée into a soup. To thicken soup, add more coconut milk. To thin it out, add the potato water.
- Garnish the soup with clams. Sprinkle with cilantro, chives, and chili.
Dinner Diva Notes:
- I found it best to prepare and chop all of your ingredients in advance, before you start cooking.
- Cutting the potatoes in a small dice I think is best; it looks nicer and your potatoes will cook more evenly if they are the same size. We also thought there could be more potatoes in general in the recipe, so the second time I made it I added 50% more and then puréed 1/2 of the cooked potatoes before adding them back to the soup to give the final soup a thicker texture. The first time, I served 4 people and followed the directions, as listed. The second time I doubled all of the ingredients to make 7-8 servings and used a combination of chicken broth and bottled clam juice in place of regular tap water.
- As for presentation: I divided the fresh clams among the bowls first to make sure everyone I served received an equal share, before ladling the soup broth over top.
- For 6 people, I used 5 lbs of fresh clams. Once I filled each bowl I garnished each bowl with chopped cilantro, minced fresh chilies, fresh chopped chives and a wedge of lime.
Mary Hathaway, Owner of Dinner Diva, has been a personal chef since 2002. She cooks regularly for clients who have special dietary needs, value healthy cooking by using organic products where possible and those who want healthy family meals but have no time to cook. Whether it’s a dinner for 4, a holiday party for 20, or a set of meals for the week, all of the recipes are customized to her client’s needs or lifestyle. Go to: Dinner-Diva.com for more info.