My New York Culinary Experience Part II: Happy as a Clam at High Water!

With Chef Ben Pollinger of Oceana Restaurant

Fellow Jersey boy Ben Pollinger is the executive chef of New York City’s Oceana Restaurant and he was also the teacher for the New York Culinary Experience’s Saturday, October 2nd’s afternoon session.  Oceana is a Michelin starred seafood restaurant in the McGraw Hill Building.  Chef Pollinger’s class was all about clams.  He taught the class how to make three recipes including: Manhattan Clam Chowder, New England Clam Chowder and Potato Gnocchi with Pumpkin Puree and Clams. 

The class was split into three groups to work on these recipes.  I was in the Manhattan Clam Chowder group.  Chef Pollinger started the class by showing us how to make clam broth, which would be the basis for each of the dishes.  We started out by sweating the sliced shallots, garlic and green chili pepper.  We added the clams to the huge pot.  We used chowder clams, which are actually very large littleneck clams.  To that we added a bouquet garni of parsley, basil, thyme, some peppercorns and a bay leaf.  And we also drained a bottle of white wine into the pot.  We covered the pot to allow the built up to steam to assist in the opening of the clams.  Once the clams were opened we strained the pot through a chinois and reserved our clam broth for our recipes.

Adding wine to the clam broth

Once each group had their clam broth ready to go, we all began working on our respective recipes.  As I mentioned earlier, my group was responsible for the Manhattan Clam Chowder, which is the tomato based chowder.  We started the recipe by preparing the soup base.  We did this by sautéing our mirepoix of onion, celery and carrot and some chopped garlic.  We added some herbs including parsley, thyme, bay leaf and black peppercorns.  We “bloomed” aka cooked the herbs to make them aromatic.  To this we added diced Yukon Gold potatoes and chopped beefsteak tomatoes.  Once the tomatoes started to let off a lot of their juices we added chicken stock, some of our clam broth and bonito flakes, which are made from dried, fermented and smoked tuna/bonito.  These flakes lend a smoky, almost porky essence to a dish. 

The beginnings of our Manhattan Clam Chowder

After the soup base was finished, it was time to finish the dish.  This was done by first rendering some linguica sausage in a sauté pan.  To that we added some mirepoix that was diced small.  Once the mirepoix began to sweat, we added the clams.  For the finish, we were using Manila clams.  We added some of our leftover clam broth and covered the pan to let the clams cook and open up.  When the clams had opened, we added diced Yukon Gold potatoes that were cooked earlier, as well as some chopped parsley and thyme leaves. 

Clams, Linguica & Mirepoix

To assemble the Manhattan Clam Chowder, we put some of the contents of the sauté pan into a bowl followed by a large ladle of the soup base.  Not because I helped to make the chowder, but I have to admit that the Manhattan Clam Chowder was very tasty.  There were many steps to the recipe, but the hard work paid off in the final product.

Our Manhattan Clam Chowder

As our chowder was cooking, Chef Pollinger demoed for us the way to make potato gnocchi.  He passed the cooked potatoes through a tami or fine-meshed sieve.  This made it impossible for there to be any lumpy potato pieces in the gnocchi. 

Passing the potatoes through a fine meshed sieve

Once all the potatoes were passed through, he seasoned the potato with salt, grated nutmeg and extra virgin olive oil.  He made a well in the center of the “mashed” potatoes and added a few eggs.  He gradually started to incorporate flour into the mixture.  Chef Pollinger said that it is important to not overwork the dough.  He also said to only add a little flour at a time.  If you add too much flour it will dry out the dough making it difficult to resuscitate.  Once the dough came together, Chef Pollinger showed us how to roll out the gnocchi.  He started by rolling out dough ropes.  From there he cut of little pieces, which he then rolled down the back tines of a fork to give the gnocchi its signature look.

 Chef Pollinger working the gnocchi dough

Gnocchi

By the end of the session, I was saddened that my first day at the 2010 New York Culinary Experience had come to an end, but was happy that I had learned a lot from two amazing chefs and that the following day was going to be two more hands-on classes with two more great chefs.  I went home that night tired but invigorated for the next day’s sessions. 

Stay tuned for Parts 3 & 4 of My New York Culinary Experience which will focus on my classes with Chef Shaun Hergatt of SHO Shaun Hergatt in NYC’s Financial District and Chef Ben Hershberger, master baker at Thomas Keller’s Per Se and Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Center.  Enjoy!

Living to eat,
Tony Mangia

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