Paul’s clam chowder

Bar clams  photos: Jim Louter

By Marisa Romano

Since October is Seafood Month in Canada, it seems a fitting time to recall the culinary surprise of my summer trip to Prince Edward Island – a memorable clam chowder prepared on the seashore at the end of an afternoon of clam digging, where diners had to work for their supper, literally.

The adventure began at an unassuming south-shore cabin in the picturesque seaport village of Victoria-by-the-Sea, where the yellow kayaks were ready and waiting. Paul Sheridan, owner-operator of By-The-Sea-Kayaking and our guide for the day, handed out life jackets, water bottles and energy bars. Paddles in hand and clamming rakes strapped against the yellow vessels, we pushed the kayaks into the receding tidal water and started the 30-minute paddle to Tryon Shoal.

At that time of day, the sand bar was covered by only a palm of water. The smooth, fine, clean sand under our feet would have been almost two meters under the surface hours earlier. Here is where bar clams hide, their whereabouts betrayed only by a small circular indent in the sand. We just had to dig there to catch them.

Large (at least 4 inches at harvest), with a thick off-white shell covered by a dark layer, bar clams are particularly plentiful in the Northumberland Strait. Sweeter in taste and a little tougher than other clams, they are steamed or shucked and used fresh, frozen or canned in chowders and stews.

By the time we left the shoal, the tide had reached its lowest and the early flood current speeded up our return to the beach. Back on shore, Sheridan showed us how to steam, clean and chop the clams and make the chowder. The flavourful gluten- and dairy-free recipe that he created surprised and satisfied all of us.

Sheridan, originally from Kemptville, fell for PEI when he vacationed there as a teenager. When he made it his permanent home, like many “come-from-aways,” he had to “do what he had to do” to make a living. He found opportunities in the food industry where he quickly discovered a knack for cooking. He eventually opened his own restaurant, offering dishes with creative combinations like his special lobster mango wraps, quirky back then. At the same time, he started the kayak-rental business. When all that proved to be too much to handle, he gave up the restaurant, combined his rental business with his talent as a cook and started offering the clamming experience, an ancient island tradition.

That was 15 years ago. Today, with a five-star rating on TripAdvisor, people come to him from all over. He brings them to Tryon Shoal whenever the sea allows, from late spring to early fall. After each outing, you can see him chuckle as he hands out seconds of his special clam chowder to happy patrons.

Seafood Month is a celebration of delicious seafood dishes, like Sheridan’s chowder, and a time to appreciate fishermen and a Canadian industry recognized by the Marine Stewardship Council for its leadership in sustainability and environmental protection.

This sector makes a significant contribution to the Canadian economy. Seafood is one of Canada’s major exports – lobster from Atlantic Canada, followed by crab and salmon are the leading products. With this in mind, lobster was on my to-do list in PEI, though I passed on the classic lobster dinner and opted for lobster rolls instead. A successful contest launched by Lobster PEI in 2020 – the Lobster Roll Call – inspired Island chefs to craft exclusive twists to the classic recipe. Diners can embrace the fun and vote for their favourite PEI Lobster Roll. Besides deciding the annual favourite, the event yields a list of restaurants offering lip-smacking lobster rolls. Many of them tasty enough to rival Paul Sheridan’s clam chowder!

Marisa Romano is a scientist and long-time foodie with an unlimited curiosity about food and the people who cook it.

Clam chowder simmering on the camp stove

Paul’s bar-clam chowder

2-3 tbsp. cooking oil
1 onion, chopped
3 sweet peppers (yellow, orange, red), chopped
2 large cans diced tomatoes
2 cans coconut milk
2 to 3 cups bar-clam meat, steamed cleaned and chopped
2 tsp cayenne powder or to taste
1/4-1/3 cup coconut Thai seasoning
1/4 cup veggie soup mix

Sauté onion and peppers in cooking oil; add tomatoes, coconut milk and the spices. Bring to boil and let cook until a little reduced, add the chopped clams (OR use frozen or preserved clam meat) and let cook 10 more minutes. Serve hot with a slice of your favourite bread. Good with your choice of other seafood as well.

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