Those in the know go to the Southold Fish Market on Wednesdays.
That’s the day Hector “Alex” Alvarez makes the chowders. Starting in the morning, clams are shucked, onions and celery are diced, cartons of cream are opened and butter is melted. Whether your preference is for Manhattan or New England, 12 to 15 gallons of each are bubbling away, and in the summer it’s about three times that. An aside: they sell more New England in the winter.
Owned by Charlie Manwaring, the market has been selling hot food since 2000 when a full kitchen went in. Soups had been on the menu before, but now classic fry shack dishes are available made from fish just pulled from the water and accompanied by French fries from fresh-cut potatoes. The tartar sauce is homemade.
The market is your typical fish store; the employees wear rubber boots, pickup trucks with nets and baskets of scallops back up to the side door and the floor regularly gets hosed down. There are no seats, except for some picnic tables by the docks in the summer. People come to the market for a quick lunch or to stock their freezers with the best sellers: the soups.
Manwaring says many customers will buy frozen soup to take home to Manhattan. Or customers will order a few gallons for a party.
Back in the kitchen, Alvarez, who had never tasted chowder until he came to the States in his late teens, uses a recipe that has evolved over the years. It’s not written down anywhere; he knows it by heart. Manwaring’s sister, Candice, came up with the following version of New England-Alvarez’s favorite-that will produce just a few gallons less than they typically make.
4 slices bacon
5 stalks celery, diced small
1 onion, diced small
2 lbs. potatoes, one pound diced, one pound shredded16 oz. clam juice
2 lbs. chopped surf clams
3 bay leaves
1 T. diced garlic
1 t. dried thyme
1 pint heavy cream
1 stick butter
¼ c. flour
Sauté bacon, add garlic, then celery and onions. Sauté until the vegetables are soft. Add clam juice, thyme and bay leaves. Bring to boil. Add shredded potatoes. When shredded potatoes start to break apart, add cream and diced potatoes. Reduce heat to simmer.
Use melted butter and flour to make a roux. Slowly add to chowder by pushing through a strainer. Let soup thicken. Add clams and cook until done. Salt and pepper to taste.
Southold Fish Market, 61850 Route 25, Southold, 631.765.3200