Clams, Corn and Cashews
From the July 2016 issue
City life didn’t agree with Jordan Miller. “I grew up on the beach,” says Miller, who was 2 years old when his family moved from Clifton, Texas, to Long Beach Island, N.J. “I left to work as a chef in multiple cities, but the beach was in my veins — I can’t kick it.”
When he spotted an online ad for an executive chef at Heirloom, then a soon-to-open restaurant in Lewes, he didn’t hesitate to contact owner Meghan Lee. Turns out they had much in common. Lee was the opening manager of Talula’s Garden in Philadelphia, which debuted in 2011. At that time, Miller was a chef at Milk & Honey Market in Philadelphia’s University City neighborhood. Both Lee and Miller share a passion for menus that change with the seasons and feature as many local ingredients as possible. They hit it off, and Heirloom opened late last year. Even on a winter weekend, it was challenging to get a table.
Miller began cooking at an early age with his grandfather. “He was an extraordinary cook and definitely my first mentor,” he says. “I remember baking cookies and cooking eggs when I visited my grandparents.” At age 14, he started washing dishes and working the fryer and salad station at The View at Rick’s, a restaurant in Barnegat Light, N.J. While studying Spanish and creative writing at the University of North Carolina, he continued working in restaurants. Despite earning two bachelor’s degrees, he decided to pursue a culinary path, moving from New Jersey to Philadelphia to Napa, Calif., to Baltimore to hone his skills. While he was chef de cuisine at Black Eyed Susans in Harvey Cedars, N.J., Zagat named the restaurant one of the top 10 in that state.
Miller says the Delmarva area is a “chef’s dream: rich farmland, plentiful bays and ocean — everything a chef needs to obtain the best ingredients and execute.” He now lives near Blockhouse Pond in downtown Lewes. He’s quick to note that it’s near the Historic Lewes Farmers Market.
As of spring, the Heirloom menu had already changed three times to reflect seasonal items. He enjoys highlighting a single ingredient in a dish. A beet salad, for instance, might feature beets prepared five different ways. He also likes a dish to tell a story, and this soup is a good example. “It represents the place where I grew up and the place where I currently live,” he says. Once local tomatoes and corn are in season, he’ll put it on the menu. Have fun with the recipe, he says. “Cooking at home should never be an exact science. This recipe allows you to add and subtract as you please.”
DELAWARE BAY CLAM CHOWDER
(serves 8 to 10)
2 cups of raw cashews
24 medium-size top neck or cherrystone clams
8 ears of corn, with silk and husks removed
1 teaspoon of whole fennel seed
1 teaspoon of whole coriander seed
1 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
3 large sprigs of thyme
2 fresh bay leaves
4 tablespoons of canola oil
2 leeks, tops removed, cleaned, sliced thinly in half moons
2 garlic cloves minced
½ cup of dry white wine
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced into small ¼ -inch cubes
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salt to taste
1 10-ounce can of pre-chopped clams in their own juice
Chopped herbs of your choice to taste
6 to 8 heirloom cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Soak two cups of raw cashews in water for 12 hours or overnight. Put clams in a large Dutch oven or stockpot and add six cups of water. Set over medium-high heat and cover until clams have opened (about 10 minutes). Strain the clam broth through a fine sieve or cheesecloth and set aside. Remove the clams from the shells and set aside.
Working one at a time, hold a corncob upright in a large bowl and cut off the kernels with a sharp knife. Repeat with all the cobs. Reserve the kernels and cobs separately.
Again, holding the cob in a bowl, use the back of a knife to scrape the “corn milk” off the cobs into another dish. Put the corn milk into a blender along with two cups of corn kernels and the cashews. Blend until completely smooth. Reserve this cashew-corn cream for later use.
Break the leftover corncobs in half. Add them to a small stockpot or saucepan. Add the reserved clam broth, fennel seed, coriander seed, black peppercorns, thyme and bay leaves. Stir to combine. Bring the broth to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Let the flavors combine on the stove for 15 minutes. Turn the heat off and let everything steep for another 15 minutes. Strain the spices and cobs and reserve broth.
Put oil in a separate saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped leeks, garlic and the remaining corn kernels. Cook, stirring frequently, until the leeks are soft and the corn kernels are tender. Add dry white wine to the pot. Reduce until almost all the liquid has evaporated.
Stirring constantly, gradually add the infused clam-corn stock and the reserved cashew-corn cream, letting the mixture come to a simmer. Add potatoes and one teaspoon of salt. Let it all simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender.
Let the soup continue to simmer until it thickens to a chowder-like consistency. Or, add a quarter of the soup to a blender and blend until smooth. Return the blended soup back to the pot and whisk to combine.
Add the can of chopped clams in their own juice and the reserved clams from the shells to the pot. Let the clams heat through.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
Note: To give the chowder dish color, garnish with halved cherry tomatoes and fresh cut herbs.
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