White Clam Chowder

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Recipe and story from Good Catch: Recipes and Stories Celebrating the Best of Florida’s Waters, University Press of Florida, October 2014.

The Homosassa River has always been the lifeblood of Old Homosassa. Herons gracefully glide from shore to shore. Cormorants pop their long necks out of the water, sometimes with a small fish speared in their beaks. Around one bend of the Otter Creek tributary, modern boaters find a snapshot of old Florida.

Set back in a small harbor is the Freezer Tiki Bar at Cedar Key Fish House. The old warehouse is where commercial fisherman brought their boats laden with crabs, fish, and shrimp. Guests arriving by car walk up a ramp to what once was the loading dock for trucks. To the left, the long, heavy plastic flaps that once protected the freezer entrance now cover the entryway to the Freezer Tiki Bar.

The Cedar Key Fish House is still a working wharf, but on weekends and at the height of scalloping season, the place is slammed with boaters, bikers, locals, and visitors seeking top-notch clam chowder, smoked mullet dip, spiced shrimp, and crabs—with ice cold beer to wash it all down. The service is as laid back as the surroundings, and menus are on large chalkboards throughout the room. Order at the counter to the side of the bar (cash only), grab a seat, and wait until they yell your name. The Freezer doesn’t share its recipe for its tasty, super-thick clam chowder, but this is mighty close.

Serves 8 to 10

Photo by Diana Zalucky

Photo by Diana Zalucky

3 (8-ounce) bottles clam juice

1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups chopped sweet onions

1¼ cups chopped fresh celery with leaves

½ cup chopped fresh parsley

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 bay leaf

¼ cup all-purpose flour

6 (6½-ounce) cans chopped clams, drained, juice reserved

2 cups heavy cream

3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

¼ cup sour cream, optional

Milk as needed

Coarse salt and pepper, to taste

Hot sauce, to taste

Oyster crackers for serving

1  Combine bottled clam juice and potatoes in a large saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pan, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

2  Melt butter in a separate large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, celery, parsley, garlic, and bay leaf and sauté until vegetables soften, about 6 minutes. Stir in flour and cook 2 minutes (do not allow flour to brown). Gradually whisk in reserved juices from clams. Add potato mixture, clams, cream, cream cheese, and sour cream.

3  Simmer chowder 5 minutes to blend flavors, stirring frequently. Thin to desired consistency with milk, if needed. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Serve with oyster crackers.

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