Eric Akis: Pick your Super Bowl favourite

Patriot lovers can choose chowder, while Eagles fans grab a Philly Cheesesteak

Eric Akis

Millions of Canadians will watch the Super Bowl on Sunday from the comfort of their living rooms. Most will also enjoy a few beverages and some food with the game.

When deciding what to serve on game day, I thought it would be fitting to make dishes well known in the cities whose teams are represented this year.

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The New England Patriots play their home games just outside Boston, a great place to enjoy a bowl of creamy clam chowder. It’s a stick-to-your-ribs kind of soup you could spoon up while watching the game and cheering — or jeering — the Patriots. My recipe serves eight to 10. You could make it hours in advance, cool and refrigerate it. Simply reheat when needed.

The Patriots are playing the Philadelphia Eagles, from a city well known for Philly cheesesteaks. According to the tourism website visitphilly.com, this hearty steak sandwich made its official debut in 1930.

Lore suggests that back then, a South Philadelphia hot dog vendor named Pat Olivieri decided to put some beef from the butcher on his grill. The sandwiches he made with it were a hit, word spread and not long after, he opened a shop that served them: Pat’s King of Steaks. At some point, he apparently started adding cheese to his steak sandwiches and the Philly cheesesteak was born.

In Philadelphia, that cheese can come in the form of molten Cheez Whiz. But in my version of the sandwich, I used sliced provolone, which is also commonly used, and some processed cheese slices. They added a nice cheese taste, but did not overwhelm the meat, as salty Cheez Whiz can.

So there you have it, a two-course Super Bowl meal, with soup to start and a juicy steak sandwich to follow.

Creamy New England-style Clam Chowder

Enjoy cups of this hearty chowder while watching the Super Bowl. If it yields more servings than you need, cool the rest to room temperature and freeze and save it for another time.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: About 35 minutes

Makes: eight to 10 servings

175 grams frozen clam meat, thawed (see Note 1 and Eric’s options)

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

6 thick strips of bacon, diced (see Note 2)

1 large onion, diced

3 medium celery ribs, diced

1 to 2 large garlic clove, minced

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1 bay leaf

3 (236 mL) bottles clam juice (see Note 3)

4 cups (1 litre) half-and-half cream

3 cups peeled yellow-flesh potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 medium potatoes)

• salt and white pepper to taste

• chopped fresh parsley or snipped chives, to taste

Set clam meat on a cutting board and coarsely chop. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until needed.

Place the oil in a medium-to-large pot set over medium to medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until slightly crispy. Add the onion, celery and garlic to the pot and cook until softened, four to five minutes. Mix in the flour, thyme and bay leaf and cook two more minutes.

While stirring steadily, slowly mix in one bottle of the clam juice. When mixture is very thick, slowly mix in the remaining clam juice. Add the cream, chopped clam meat and potatoes to the pot and bring chowder to a gentle simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Adjust the heat as needed to maintain that gentle simmer. Simmer chowder until potatoes are just tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Season the chowder with salt and pepper. (If you find the chowder too thick, stir in a bit more cream.) Sprinkle servings of the chowder with chopped parsley or snipped chives.

Note 1: Frozen clam meat is sold at some supermarkets. I used Ocean Mama brand and bought it at Thrifty Foods. It came in a 340-gram bag. You only need half of that bag for this recipe. Keep the rest frozen for another time.

Note 2: Diced means to cut into 1/8- to 1/4-inch cubes.

Note 3: Clam juice is sold in the canned seafood aisle of most supermarkets.

Eric’s options: I used convenient frozen clam meat in this recipe because fresh clams were unavailable when I created this recipe due to weather conditions. When they are available and if you wish to use fresh clams for the chowder, purchase three pounds of manila clams. Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a large pot. Add the clams and cover and cook just until they open. Remove from the heat. Lift the clams out of the pot with tongs and set on a large baking sheet; reserve the cooking liquid in the pot. When the clams are cool, remove the meat from the shells; discard the shells. Coarsely chop the clam meat. Pour any liquid on the baking sheet the clams sat on into the reserved cooking liquid. Strain the cooking liquid. Measure that liquid and use it in place of some or all of the bottled clam juice called for in the recipe, depending on how much you end up with.

Philly-style Cheesesteak

This is my version of this sandwich made famous in Philadelphia. Use tender beef with some fat on it — the fat will melt and help to brown the meat, while adding rich flavour.

Preparation time: 40 minutes, plus freezer time

Cooking time: About 50 to 60 minutes

Makes: Eight servings

3 lb (1.4 kg) rib-eye, top sirloin or strip loin roast, or top sirloin cap steak

1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus some for the griddle

2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced

2 medium green bell peppers, halved and thinly sliced

2 medium red bell peppers, halved and thinly sliced

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 Tbsp red wine vinegar

8 provolone cheese slices

8 processed cheese slices

8 panini or other crusty oblong buns, split and warmed

Line a large plate with plastic wrap. Cut the meat into two pieces and set on the plate. To make it easier to slice, put the meat into the freezer for one hour, or until firm on the outside, but still soft in the centre. Cut the meat, against the grain (see Note), into very thin slices. Set meat back on the plate, cover and set it aside for now.

Heat the 1/4 cup oil in a large skillet (mine was 12 inches wide) set over medium to medium-high heat. Add onions and bell peppers and season generously with salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are golden brown and almost caramelized and the peppers are very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the vinegar, stir again, then remove skillet from heat.

Set a large griddle over medium-high heat and lightly brush it with vegetable oil. When it’s very hot, cook the sliced beef, in batches, setting it on in a thin layer. Season the meat generously with salt and pepper, and cook two minutes or so per side, until almost cooked (you’ll further brown it later). Now use a fork and a metal spatula to pull and cut the meat into smaller pieces. Transfer the meat to a large baking sheet. Cook the remaining raw meat in this fashion and set it on the baking sheet, too. Separate meat into eight portions.

To make each sandwich, set a portion of the meat back on the hot griddle in a six-inch-long row. Top it with some of the onions and peppers. Now set on a slice of provolone cheese and a slice of processed cheese. Cook, undisturbed, until meat is crisp on the bottom and cheese on top is melted, about four to five minutes. Set the meat in the bun and serve (see Eric’s options).

Note: If you look at the meat, you can see distinct lines (grains) running through it. If you slice the meat in the same direction as those lines, you’ll have to bite through those chewy fibres. That’s why it’s important to slice the meat against those grains.

Eric’s options: To make what’s known as a cheesesteak hoagie, spread the buns with mayonnaise and include sliced or chopped tomatoes and shredded lettuce in the sandwich.

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