This past Saturday I attended what I thought was going to be
a lot of fun…a clam chowder tasting/judging on Redondo Beach Pier.
$6 for 5 tastes. Split with my husband, that translated to 10 tastes for
9 available soups. Participants were pretty much all South Bay local
restaurants, most of them from the pier or the immediate vicinity. They gave
you a small Styrofoam cup and a plastic spoon, and the idea was to use the same
cup for each sample. No spit bucket or new bowl. You had to dump it
in the trash can and wipe out the “bowl” with a napkin.
Still, very exciting to help judge the best clam
chowder. The rules said the only meats allowed were clams and bacon, and
the chowder could be either red (Manhattan) or white (New England.)
I am simply not going to name names, it was just too
terrible. You easily google it if you are that interested. Locals
will be able to easily guess the participating restaurants.
I was just amazed how bad every last one of them were.
Yes, I am from the east coast and have spent a lot of time in Boston enjoying
the best chowder I have ever had. But my complaints have nothing to do
with authenticity, which of course was completely lacking. My issue was
with quality of ingredients and technique. Faults included obviously
processed broths/stocks or bouillons as bases. More salt than
flavor. On that, add variations of lots of bacon fat, way too much flour
for thickening, and a heck of a lot of salt. Only one had nice chunks of fresh
soft clams. Others were obviously using canned clams. Even the one with
the fresh clams did not use a homemade fish stock.
Every single contender did white, with the exception of one
restaurant that did one of each. The red might as well have been white,
as it was so thick with flour that it did not taste remotely like red.
Campbell’s Manhattan would have been an improvement.
But yet, I appeared to be alone in my dissension. Others were simply raving about “the one with the bacon bits” or the “really thick” one. Yuk! I guess this is why people still flock to these places. Am I really a food snob because I don’t like processed ingredients? I have to believe there are others with the same soup values as myself.
Maybe this prevailing attitude is why there are so few
restaurants that make decent soup anymore. But there must be restaurants who still want to step up and not lower themselves. It is not that
difficult or expensive just to take the extra step, which I think really boils down to starting with a stock made from bones/shells
of animals or fish, not that yellow or brown colored pasty substance they sell
in a plastic container that you spoon out and add water to. So to all the
restaurants out there making fake soup, here is a very simple recipe.
Make stock by roasting some bones and boiling them overnight with some veggies
and mirepoix. Take a stock, add protein of your choice, skim, add veggies,
and herbs/seasoning. Perhaps legumes. Cook a couple hours. Finish
with cream if you want. Done.
Los Angeles needs some restaurants that make proper soups.
Please help me put the pressure on.
3 thoughts on “Clam Chowder Contest on the Pier”
Although I am not quite the connoisseur of clam chowder, I did try an excellent concoction at Boa Steakhouse in West Hollywood (I know, more of a trendy place than a foodie place). But I have to admit after getting tired of Boudin’s clam chowder, I found Boa’s to be just right.
Thanks for the comments, Gabe! I never would have thought of Boa as being a clam chowder destination; perhaps this is something I should seek out.
If you ever get the chance please let me know so I know whether I have developed a foodie’s palate or not :-). However, if I remember correctly it was the soup of the day so it may not be a regular item on the menu. You may also want to think of trying the Potato/Leek soup at LaMill in Silver Lake. Not quite a full clam chowder, but very reminiscent.