8 and $20 Recipe: Creamy Clam Chowder and a Spanish White

Bacon and smoked paprika help make an ideal pairing for this easy weeknight dish
Dec 10, 2013

Eight ingredients. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a weeknight feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.

The holidays are a fun time of year, no question. But after nights of winter party food, sometimes the only thing that sounds good is a simple, comforting and warming meal, such as a creamy clam chowder. I set out to make a weeknight-appropriate version of this homey classic, with a cream-thickened broth (no roux in sight) and a bare minimum of chopping veggies, allowing the chowder to come together quickly.

Thinking about wine pairings, I wanted a full-bodied white that could match the volume and richness of a cream-based broth. Chardonnay seemed an obvious choice, as did a richer style of Chenin Blanc or a Viognier. Instead, I picked a dark-horse Spanish white I found in my local market for $14; the tasting note counted smoke, almond and notable acidity among its attributes—all elements I could work with when it came to tweaking the recipe to pair with the wine.

To test the match, I started with a super-basic version of the soup, using just butter, a leek, celery, potatoes, clams and cream. The recipe was already on the right track. The cream helped round out the wine’s sharp edges, the acidity in the wine helped brighten the chowder, and the nutty notes in the butter-browned vegetables synced up with the almond accents in the wine.

In the next version, I added some of the wine to the soup to bring a tanginess to the broth and crisped up some bacon to complement the smoky note in the wine. Adding bacon to a dish matched with white wine can be a dicey affair, as the smoke from the bacon can dominate. But the addition in this case was great—the wine came alive alongside the chowder. The textures of both aligned between richness and acidity, and the flavors popped in the wine and the soup.

Although I had a really solid match, I wondered if there was something else I could do. For a summer soup, I might add herbs by the handful; dill would make a great choice, but then I’d probably swap the wine for a white Bordeaux or a richer style of Sauvignon Blanc that could tackle the herbal notes. Winter, however, called for warming spices, prompting me to try a version with smoked paprika added at the end along with the cream. My reasoning: The paprika could reinforce the wine’s smoky flavors, while the fruity pepper base could appeal to the pear and melon hints listed in the wine’s tasting note. The result? The match was neither better nor worse, but since the paprika definitely made the soup more distinctive and played into the Spanish match, I left it in the recipe below.

Creamy Clam Chowder

Pair with a full-bodied white, such as Bodega El Albar Lurton (86 points, $12)

Total time: 30 minutes

Approximate food cost: $28

  • 4 medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/4 pound thick-cut bacon, thinly sliced into lardons
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 leek, sliced, white and light green parts only
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1/2 cup white wine (whatever you’re drinking will work best)
  • 2 pounds small clams, such as littlenecks, washed (around 5 to 7 per person)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1. In a medium-sized stockpot, bring salted water to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and add the cubed potatoes and cook until soft, around 20 minutes. Reserve both the water and the potatoes.

2. In a medium-sized stockpot, cook the bacon over medium-high heat until browned. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel–lined plate to drain. Maintain the heat and add one tablespoon of butter to the pot. When the butter melts, add the leek and celery and cook until softened and just beginning to brown. Add the second tablespoon of butter and the potatoes to the pot and continue to cook until just browned.

3. Add the wine to the pot and bring the wine to a boil. When the wine has reduced by half, add 2 cups of the potato water and the clams. Cover the pot and cook until the clams have opened, around 5 to 7 minutes. Divide the clams among four bowls, discarding any that haven’t opened, then divide the crisped bacon among the bowls as well.

4. Add the heavy cream and the paprika to the pot with the potatoes and leeks and cook until the heavy cream almost boils, then divide the broth and vegetable mixture in the serving bowls with the clams. Serves 4.

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