When former New York Times food columnist and opinion writer Mark Bittman released the first edition of How to Cook Everything in 1998, the world was a very different place. Google was just being incorporated, the iPhone was almost a decade away and a guy named Tom Brady had yet to throw a pass in the National Football League.
An instant success on an online marketplace that branded itself as “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore,” the massive tome was the No. 2 bestselling book on Amazon for weeks just behind Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full at No. 1. despite having a title its author did not fully endorse.
“That decision was made by people who did not really want to talk about it with me,” Bittman tells InsideHook. “When they announced we were calling it How to Cook Everything, I argued with that, but they were right, I was wrong. It’s a solid name. It’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but it’s a name that’s really worked for us.”
Although likely not quite as profitable as the growth of Amazon has been for Jeff Bezos, Bittman has seen the How to Cook empire he unknowingly launched in ’98 grow to include a number of other volumes including How to Bake Everything, How to Grill Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Another book in the series, How to Cook Everything Fast, was released for the first time in 2014 but will be making a return to bookshelves this week in a revised edition that now contains more than 100 photographs and more than 700 recipes, all of which can be made in 30 minutes or less. Updated and now containing more than 50% new recipes, How To Cook Everything Fast Revised Edition is based on the original but can rightfully be called an all-new edition, according to Bittman.
“In these How to Cook Everything books, the biggest challenge is presenting the material in the best possible way. It’s not the material itself,” Bittman says. “We know how to do recipes. Our recipes are pretty simple. We’ve been doing this for a long time. All the recipes were good and all the recipes are good.”
One of those recipes is for a seafood chowder that can be made with clams or mussels and doesn’t require a broth base. “Since seafood brings the briny character of the ocean to the pot, all you need is water, not stock, to make this soup,” Bittman says. “Fish or chicken stock will change the flavor to be less like the ocean.”
The key to this recipe, according to Bittman, is letting the clams or mussels provide that ocean flavor.
“Whole clams exude a tremendous amount of really flavorful liquid,” he says. “That’s true of mussels too, but a little bit less so because clams are really tightly shut and rely on their own liquid to stay alive whereas mussels are filtering constantly and their shells are naturally at least partly open. They dry out more quickly, but clams can be cooked without any liquid at all. You can put them in a pot dry, cover it and turn the heat on. Five minutes later they’re gonna be sitting in a big puddle of liquid. The key is preserving that liquid.”
Here’s how to do it…in 30 minutes or less.
Mark Bittman’s Clam (or Mussel) Chowder
Cook Time: 25-30 minutes
Yield: Serves four
- 5 cups water
- 2 tbsp. butter
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme or 2 tsp. dried
- 2 large or 3 small russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
- 1 large leek
- 1 large carrot
- 2 celery stalks
- 2 cloves garlic
- 3 pounds littleneck or other hard-shell clams or 2 pounds mussels
- 1 cup cream or milk
- Put 5 cups water and 2 tbsp. butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add 4 sprigs fresh thyme or 2 tsp. dried, and sprinkle with salt.
- Scrub the potatoes and peel them if you like. Cut them into small chunks and add them to the pot.
- Trim the leek and slice the white and light green parts only. Rinse thoroughly in a colander under cold water and drain well.
- Trim and peel the carrot; trim the celery. Cut them into small chunks and add them to the pot along with the leek.
- Peel and slice 2 cloves garlic and add to the pot.
- When the liquid comes to a boil, adjust the heat so it bubbles gently but steadily. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are fork-tender but not yet breaking apart, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Scrub the clams or scrub and debeard the mussels; discard any that don’t close when you press the shell together.
- When the potatoes are tender, add the clams or mussels to the chowder. Pour in 1 cup cream or milk. Adjust the heat so the liquid bubbles gently but steadily. Cover and cook just until the clams or mussels open, 3 to 5 minutes.
- When the shellfish have opened, stir the pot gently to combine everything. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Fish out and discard the thyme sprigs if you used them.
- Serve right away with extra bowls on the table for the empty shells.
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