A seafood chowder can be such a regional dish, and such a personal dish, in this case, this recipe is a family favourite of Matty Matheson's.

"When Grampy used to take us clam digging, he would drive us down old dusty roads until we got to the crisp, salty air at his friend’s beautiful beach on the south shore of PEI. My two brothers and I loved it so much. On the other hand, my sister hated it because she was a lot older and we tormented her so fucking much.

We would throw sand, seaweed, mussels, and anything else we could get our hands on. My brothers and I were three little shits. We would go, shovels and buckets in hand, as the tide went out into the Northumberland Strait. Grampy would tell us to look for air bubbles on the sand’s surface. Then we would dig into the red sand, hoping to come up with bar clams, littlenecks, soft-shell clams, and the prized PEI mussel. We would walk farther out to the water’s edge and find oysters and quahogs by feeling with our feet for little hard stones in the soft sand.

Grampy would sometimes just grab a few oysters and shuck them for us right then and there. Nothing beats that time in my life: looking up at Grampy in the hot sun, knee-deep in the ocean that’s feeding you oysters. I was like a feral cat getting his first bowl of milk. I couldn’t be stopped. Oysters are the best! Once in a while instead of an oyster, you would pull up a crab on your finger! As a child it was so scary—yet exhilarating—that this little monster clenched onto your finger, often causing blood to trickle down and drip into the low tide.

We would boil all the shellfish with salt water over propane burners in Grampy’s driveway with the garage door open to let in the summer sun. Is there anything better? He would make this chowder the next day with whatever seafood was left over after we filled our bellies with mussels, clams, and oysters. He served it with hot butter and dinner rolls." – Matty Matheson

Yield: Serves 6-8 Total Time: 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 12 oysters

  • 3 pounds (1.4 kg) littleneck clams, scrubbed

  • 3 pounds (1.4 kg) bar clams, scrubbed

  • 2 pounds (1 kg) mussels, scrubbed and debearded

  • 2 pounds (1 kg) shrimp

  • 4 large quahogs

  • Cornmeal

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • ½ cup (120 ml) good canola oil

  • 4 onions, diced

  • 4 stalks celery, diced

  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced

  • 2 leeks, cleaned and diced

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • 2 cups (480 ml) good dry white wine

  • 1 bouquet garni (a few sprigs of thyme, tarragon, and parsley wrapped in twine and tied to the pot handle so it’s easy to pluck out of the chowder)

  • 3 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced

  • 4 cups (960 ml) heavy cream

  • Good olive oil for finishing

Method

Clean the shellfish either by rinsing with cold water in buckets in the sink or leaving in a bucket with salted water and cornmeal in it overnight. Cornmeal makes the clams spit out all the sand in their bellies. Cleaning an oyster is easy: Place it on ice, scrub clean under cold tap water, then place in a tray under a wet towel until you shuck them for the chowder. Or just shuck a few to smash right then.

Shuck the oysters into a small bowl and try to keep as much of their liquor as possible. Place the bowl in the fridge with a wet paper towel over it.

Fill a large pot with water three-quarters high, add 4 tablespoons (68 g) salt, and bring to a boil.

Add your clams, cover the pot, and cook until they open, 5 to 10 minutes. Discard any that don’t open. Scoop out opened clams with a spider into an ice bath. Do the same for the mussels. They should open almost instantly, within 30 seconds. If they don’t open after 1 minute they are dead and should not be eaten. Scoop and place into an ice bath.

Turn off the boiling water and let it settle. It should look a little murky and kind of like watery milk. This is clam liquor. Once it has cooled a little, ladle from the top 4 cups (960 ml) of that beautiful oceanic liquor and set aside. Discard the rest.

Pick all the shellfish out of their shells; discard the shells. Place the meat in a bowl with a wet paper towel on top and put in the fridge with the oysters.

In another large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, pour the canola oil and add the onions, celery, carrots, leeks, and garlic. Cook until translucent, about 10 minutes—gently, cooked-down mirepoix is one of my favourite things ever.

Once the veggies are cooked perfectly, add the butter and let it bubble and froth with all the mirepoix. Now add the wine, clam liquor, bouquet garni, and potatoes; cook 1 hour. Add the cream and the shellfish and cook 5 minutes, stirring continuously. Add and salt if needed.

Ladle into bowls and hit the chowder with a little drizzle of good olive oil and a few cranks of pepper.