I’m not Catholic, but I always enjoy Friday restaurant offerings, especially when the Soup de jour is clam chowder. The big challenge I have in making chowder these days is that I'm not eating dairy. Apart from opting out of the industrial meat market, I also opted out of industrial dairy and eggs. I don't like how many dairy cows and egg layers are kept, and I'm not convinced that these products, laden with hormones and antibiotics, are good for me. I'm looking for alternatives to dairy, like a local source of organic raw-milk from grass-fed cows, but I've yet to nail that down. I do have chickens, but I can't keep a cow or a goat. So this means no milk, no cheese, no yogurts, no butter… I find it almost easy to live without the meat, but the dairy deal is tough.
I collected some beautiful Easter Soft-Shell clams and a few Manila clams. I also picked two varieties of seaweed. I picked leafy green sea lettuce, and burgundy-colored Turkish towel. Or at least I think it was Turkish towel. I like the lettuce seaweed better because its tender and flavorful, whereas the red is a bit like chewing rubber.
The red seaweed was the unexpected secret ingredient. Red seaweed is loaded with carrageenan, a natural thickener that is released when the seaweed is cooked. I knew what carrageenan was because I’ve looked it up years ago, after seeing it listed as an ingredient on my yogurt container. Carrageenan is found in many foods, but I had no idea the Turkish towel frons tapped a primary source.
The sea lettuce created an oddly chickenish-flavored broth, naturally infused with sea salt and surprisingly hearty. I added a diced potato, an onion, a couple of carrots, a huge pinch of dill weed, black pepper, and a few celery stalks. Once the mixture was near boil, I tossed in the clams.
Now, I’m a bacon-lover. Crumbled bacon gives chowder a sweet and smoky taste. Bacon was out of the question, so my chowder lacked that just-like-mom-makes taste. A small portion of flaked, wild-caught, smoked salmon remedied the problem.
Jim, not a seafood or seaweed eater, tried a spoonful and said, “it doesn’t suck.” He ate a bowl of Cheerios for dinner. The boys each ate a large bowl of chowder and went back for seconds. My neighbor kid, Kyle, ate three bowls. Kyle wants me to make a fresh seaweed and miso soup. l promised to give it a try.
I loved my gluten-free, low-fat, low-sodium, dairy-free, seaweed chowder. Typical clam chowder contains bacon, bacon fat, flour or cornstarch for thickening, butter, and cream or milk. I didn’t run the caloric numbers, but I know my creation was strikingly lower in calories, fat, and carbs with no sacrifice in taste. In fact, I think I like my version better than the chowder I grew up on, and way better than any I’ve eaten in Friday visits to restaurants. As a bonus, my chowder was loaded with fiber, lots of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. I’ll definitely make this again, but I’ll have to wait a week on a tide low enough to gather my ingredients.