Hopped up – it is! This tomato based, Manhattan-style chowder has one very potent ingredient: datil pepper. Datil peppers are hotter than jalapeno or Tabasco peppers but not quite as hot as habeneros. They are green to yellow-orange, and a little bigger than a jalapeno.
Long lines of diners at local restaurants attest to the popularity of this fiery chowder. Most historians, when writing about clam chowder, fail to mention Minorcan. Maybe it is because they do not know about it, or because the datil pepper used in this chowder is grown only in the St. Augustine area.
Photo from O’Steen’s Restaurant in St. Augustine, FL.
Minorcan Clam Chowder History:
The Minorcan tale and the Minorcan clam chowder began when eight ships were launched off the coast of Spain (Mediterranean Island of Minorca) in 1768. The 1,403 passengers on board were bound for an indigo plantation in New Smyrna, south of St. Augustine. Though the Minorcans believed themselves to be contracted as indentured servants to Dr. Andrew Turnbull, the plantation’s owner, the realty was a situation bordering on enslavement. For nine long years, the Minorcans were forced to endure suffering and hardship.
Settlers who managed to survive, escaped in 1777 from the plantation and made their way to St. Augustine, where they came under the protection of Governor Patrick Tonyn. They brought their own spices and cooking traditions with them, and the key ingredient was the datil pepper. Just as in New England, chowder was an easy food to make, it could be cooked in one pot, and it would feed many hungry people. It was a meal made from necessity using fish that was plentiful in their new surroundings and their own familiar seasonings, not one they had brought from their homeland. The Minorcans were extraordinary fishermen. The fish was plentiful and the soil was poor, so their creativity probably led to dishes like chowder.
Maggi Smith Hall, author of Flavors of St. Augustine, a cookbook that traces the history of St. Augustines’ cooking, found evidence that the tomato was grown in St. Augustine at least during the second Spanish period (1784-1821). She states:”Tomatoes were one of the crops grown by Phillip Fatio, who had a plantation in Switzerland, Florida. So, while New Englanders were enjoying their cream-based chowder, those make-do Minorcans were already using the tomato.”
Minorcan Clam Chowder Recipe: