'Clam' Chowder, or, A Disaster Story

In the interest of making all the recipes in the box, I often stumble across dumb ones that were culled from magazines, newspapers, or ads. This is one of those recipes-- it's really just 'make a can of soup, and serve with a pat of butter.' But clam chowder is hard-ish to find here in Scotland, and I've always wanted to try making it myself.

So I figured one night for dinner last week that we'd give it a try. I once watched my mother-in-law made clam chowder and it seemed pretty easy, so I thought Judson and I could surely handle it, with the help of some internet resources for inspiration.

Here is something I didn't count on: the fishmonger, when I dropped by to buy fresh clams, told me he had no clams because, and I quote, 'the water around Scotland doesn't get cold enough for clams.'

I wish I had an image of the deadpan face I gave him when he said that because I really thought he was joking and if you don't understand why, you've clearly never been to a Scottish beach (where the water never gets above 50F/10C). But evidently it's true, and the balmy waters of Scotland are not home to many clams. Armed with this knowledge, I headed to Tesco where I planned to buy jarred clams, which I assumed would work just as well. But when I got to Tesco, I could only find jarred cockles. 'That's fine,' I thought to myself. 'We'll just have cockle chowder! I'll invent this new dish and before you know it, people the world over will be ordering it in restaurants near and far! How different could a cockle possibly taste from a clam?'

Very is the answer to that question... if the cockles happen to be pickled.

To redeem myself for the horrors of this recipe, here's a picture of the new hand-carved white pine spoon I bought to scoop salt with.

To redeem myself for the horrors of this recipe, here's a picture of the new hand-carved white pine spoon I bought to scoop salt with.

I assumed naively that the cockles would be brined in saltwater, but it turned out they were pickled in some kind of vinegar (the internet recommends making pickled cockles in malt vinegar, so maybe that's what it was?). Not only did they taste exclusively of pickle, but they definitively did not match the creamy potato chowder I had prepared for them.

Don't get me wrong, we proceeded anyway (partly because we had no other dinner food in the house; partly because I felt that I couldn't give up). I hoped some of the pickle flavour would soak out in the soup and be absorbed by the potatoes, but it did not. As an additional slap in the face, it turns out that cockles are just a type of saltwater clam (not the coquinas I thought they were). We still haven't determined what pickled cockles are supposed to be used for, and so far all of my Googling has produced only recipes for making your own pickled cockles, no recipes for things to put them into.


The verdict:

1 spoon out of five. Might I go ahead and recommend that you don't make this soup? However, if you're so inclined, next time you make an actual clam chowder, top each serving with a wee pat of butter. It makes the soup extra creamy and flavourful and even more perfect for sopping up the last drops with a crusty baguette.

The recipe:

Pickled Cockle Chowder

the directions:

Rinse the cockles well in cold water.
Prepare the clam chowder as directed, except swap pickled cockles for clams.
Serve with a pat of butter on each bowl, and don't expect anyone to finish ask for seconds.

the ingredients:

Your favourite clam chowder recipe
2 jars of pickled cockles