​What’s Cara Cooking? Clam and Fennel Chowder

​What’s Cara Cooking? Clam and Fennel Chowder

By Cara Frank, L.OM.

Eric and I often day-trip to the beach. We find that it’s worth the schlep because even a few hours of sun and ocean is restorative.

One of our routines is to stop and pick up clams on the way home and make Craig LaBan’s amazing linguini with clam sauce.

But the recipe makes a meal for a crowd and I am really trying to learn to cook for two. Plus, we are trying to eat less wheat and carbs.Recently, in some restaurant, maybe A.Kitchen, I had a delicious bowl of clams with fennel.

Since I had a bulb of fennel languishing in my fridge, I thought I’d try to replicate the recipe. In addition to the fennel in the fridge, I’ve got gorgeous bronze fennel that has self-seeded all over the garden. Its feathery leaves and umbiliferous flowers are beautiful in my garden. I add the leaves to all my salads, to egg dishes, on top of fish and even in cocktails

Fennel has a long history of use as a medical herb in both Western and Chinese Traditions. It is a perennial herb that freely self-seeds, even in a garden as small as mine.

Fennel tea has been used through the ages to promote the flow of breast milk and relieve gas in infants. It has a mild estrogenic effect

In Chinese herbology, the seeds are called Xiao Hui Xiang. They are warm and fragrant and, interestingly enough, they are also used to treat hernial disorders and pain that is centered in the lower abdomen.

In Chinese herbology, clamshells are call hai ke ge. They have a salty flavor and are used to help treat thick phlegm that is difficult to expectorate. Because it is a shell, it’s high in calcium carbonate, so it can also be used as an antacid.

The clam meat is cold and salty and they enter the kidney channel. Thus, they are a perfect food for the summer. The cold nature clears heat and the salty flavor protects yin fluids.

Which leads us back to my soup:

Clam and Fennel Chowder

Warning: this soup is not kosher, vegetarian, paleo or low fat. Therefore, this recipe is guaranteed to offend a few of you. But hopefully it will please even more of you. That said: on the pleasure-ometer in my house, it’s off the hook. A total keeper.

50 little neck clams

White wine

Pernod/ absinthe

1 large shallot

A blob of butter

2 stalks of celery

Fennel bulb

2 larger red potatoes

The single handful of snap peas which represents the entire harvest from your city garden

Lemon zest

1 Bay leaf

Heavy cream

Fresh black pepper

Only a little salt

For starters: my recipes are usually based on whatever is around. Use this as an inspiration and make your own wonderful version.

I didn’t want the clams to be over cooked or tough, so I first steamed them in some white wine. How much? The amount that was in the end of a bottle. Less than a cup. I added a splash of absinthe. Why absinthe? Because I don’t have Pernod in the house and, well, lets be honest: who the hell really drinks absinthe? It’s a totally site specific drink. It’s romantic and delicious in New Orleans, but back home-not so much, even if you have the special spoon and sugar cubes, which we do. Therefore, I say, let’s just cook with it! If you don’t use alcohol, just use water, a sliced lemons, pepper corns and bay leaves. It’ll still be amazing.

Go to the garden: gently gently hunt for the ripe snap peas that you have planted. Snip them off with scissors because if you yank them, the whole plant will be traumatized and EVERYTHING will be ruined. keep looking until you find about 20. Exhibit immense self control by only eating one raw pea.

Meanwhile, as the clams are steaming, dice the shallots finely. Quarter the potatoes and then slice thinly. Think about the shape of the food. It should be pretty, but be able to fit in a spoon and then into your mouth without a struggle. Slice the celery thinly. On the bias looks pretty. Quarter the fennel bulb and then slice thinly. I had about 2/3 of a bulb in my fridge, which was the perfect amount. Slice the snap peas on the bias, maybe 1/4 inch thick.

By now the clams have steamed open. Take them, with the liquid off the heat and totally ignore them for a few minutes.

Put a nice big chunk of butter in a soup pot and melt it. Don’t paleo this soup with coconut oil. Don’t use olive oil. Do use amazing local, organic cultured butter. Add the shallots and let them cook and soften till a magical aroma fills the air and they are transparent. Add the fennel, and celery and lower the heat. Cook slowly with a cover until they are softened, but not deadened. Add in the clam broth and begin to simmer them. Feel a deep sense of compassion for the veggies and don’t cook them over a high heat. We want to baby all our ingredients. The tenderness you express for the clams will translate into the most unctuous soup if you are patient.

If there isn’t enough clam broth to cover them, debate in your mind if you want to add a bit of water or a wee more bit of wine. I usually opt for the water at this point because I want the other flavors to shine.

Find the lemon that’s been languishing on the counter for a day and then rummage through the drawer of crap in the kitchen until you find the zester. Get as much zest off the lemon as you can. Add a bay leaf. Or, as I did: pick a bay leaf off of the tiny plant that Eric bought. Grind in a bunch a fragrant black pepper. Resist the temptation to add hot pepper. You know it will ruin the soup, so just walk away from it now.

Pick the clams from the shells. Try your best not to burn your fingers like I did.

When the veggies are just soft enough, add a half pint of heavy cream. Add the clams and the peas. Add a couple more grinds of pepper because you feel reckless. Test for salt and add half the amount you want. Trust me on this point.

Simmer low and slow just a tiny bit longer till it all comes together and everything is cooked, but not mush. Just because you can, throw in another splash of absinthe and then go to the garden and pick a few of the hundreds of self-seeded fennel fronds to garnish the soup.


About Cara Frank, L.OM.

Cara Frank, L.OM. was raised by in a health food store in Brooklyn NY. When she was 8 she cartwheeled 5 miles from Greenwich Village through Soho and Chinatown and across the Brooklyn Bridge. For over 30 years she has had the same crazy passion for Chinese medicine. At 17 she had her first acupuncture treatment. At 20 she enrolled in acupuncture school. 1n 1998 she went to China to study where she fell deeply in love with herbs and has never recovered.

Cara is the founder of Six Fishes Healing Arts in Philadelphia where she maintains a busy acupuncture practice and acts as the head fish of the office. She is also the president of China Herb Company You can read her full bio or schedule an appointment.

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