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Cooking Through Fiction: Moby Dick

There are a few books that have first lines that when read aloud are immediately recognizable. For example, this next one:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.

You guessed Moby Dick, correct?

Many of us are fanatics about something. Music, sports, books, food. Captain Ahab, captain of the Pequod, was a full-blown, maniacal fanatic about the great, white whale: Moby Dick. And can you blame him, knowing that on a previous voyage, the whale bit off Ahab’s leg? He must find the whale. He must kill it. He has one singular focus, but does he succeed?

In chapter 15, titled Chowder, Ahab and Peleg enjoy a homemade New England Clam Chowder.

"However, a warm savory steam from the kitchen served to belie the apparently cheerless prospect before us. But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh! sweet friends, hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits, and salted pork cut up into little flakes! the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt.

While eating this chowder out of my mama’s wedding china (which is probably a wee bit fancier than how Ahab dined), I realized that I’ll never be as fanatical (filled with an excessive and single-minded zeal) as the most “ungodly, godly” man, Ahab. It’s too bad he wasn’t fanatical about New England clam chowder. This soup is good!"

Ahab’s Clam Chowder

Serves 6–8

Level of Difficulty: easy


2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 medium onion, finely diced

2 celery stalks trimmed, quartered lengthwise, then sliced into ¼–inch pieces

3 tbsp all-purpose flour

2 c chicken stock

2 (10-ounce) cans chopped clams in juice

1 c heavy cream

2 bay leaves

1 lb Idaho potatoes, cut into ½–inch cubes

4 slices of bacon, cooked and chopped into small pieces

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

How to Make

  1. Heat the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat.

  2. Add the onion and celery and sauté until softened, mixing often.

  3. Stir in the flour to distribute evenly.

  4. Add the stock, juice from 2 cans of chopped clams (reserve clams), cream, bay leaves, and potatoes and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, stirring consistently (the mixture will thicken), and then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook 20 minutes, stirring often, until the potatoes are nice and tender.

  5. Then add clams and season to taste with salt and pepper, cook until clams are just firm, another 2 minutes.

  6. Top with cooked bacon.

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