I’m not claiming this chowder is authentic but it uses classic ingredients, leans heavily on vegetables, goes lightly on the salt pork or bacon if using it at all, and much more lightly on cream. I wanted the chowder to be white but not rich or gummy. I get irked when I suspect that clam chowder been thickened with flour (as the ones in the grocery store takeout sometimes seem to be). The flavor of the clams and other ingredients shines when presented in a light broth rather than being buried in béchamel. Make your own. It’s easy and fast.
Obviously, fresh summer steamers or other varieties in their shells make great chowder but I have no objection to the shucked fresh claims in broth coming from reputable nearby purveyors. A new source for clams from Cape Cod showed up in our market recently so I decided to try them. The trick to chowder, as with most soups, is to cook it gently. I also used waxy potatoes since the floury ones could make the broth murky. After sautéing onions in rendered bacon/salt pork fat (butter or butter and oil if you’re not using pork), add the onions, celery and herbs and cook gently. Then add broth and potatoes and cook gently until tender. Finally, add the cream and bring nearly to a boil. Then add the clams, turn off the heat and let the clams cook in the liquid, covered, for a few minutes. If you cook them over high heat, they turn into pencil erasers.
Generally, it is preferable to use fresh clam broth for the liquid. The distributor of the clams I bought also sells fresh broth. You can use bottled clam broth but honestly, if you don’t have fresh clam juice, a light homemade chicken stock is the best alternative. Water’s okay too but you’ll end up fortifying the chowder with other ingredients (more salt, for example) to make up for the feeble taste. Like the old stone soup story.
New England Clam Chowder, My Way
1 lb chopped clams in their liquid
1 slice thick bacon, diced in 1/3 inch pieces
A few drops of vegetable oil (or a combination of butter and oil if not using bacon)
1 onion, diced in 1/3 to ½ inch pieces
2 stalks celery, diced in 1/3 inch pieces
1 bay leaf
½ tsp dried thyme or more to taste
1 medium–large waxy potato
1 ½-2 c broth (I used a combination of fresh clam juice and light homemade chicken broth)
1/3 – ½ c heavy cream
Chopped parsley (or other seasonal herbs like chives, chervil, young lovage)
Drain the clams, reserving the liquid.
Render the bacon in a little vegetable oil over medium-low heat until crisp, and remove to a paper towel to drain and crisp.
Saute the onion and celery slowly in the bacon fat (or use butter or a combination of butter and oil) until the onion is translucent. Add the bay leaf thyme and peppercorns and stir.
Add the potatoes to the pot and pour in broth to cover. Cook slowly over medium heat, covered, until the potatoes are nearly tender.
Add the cream and increase the heat, bringing the mixture nearly to a boil. Add the clams, turn off the heat and let the chowder stand for about 5 minutes until the clams are lightly cooked.
Warm again, stir in the reserved bacon or salt pork, and serve garnished with parsley or other herbs. Crackers are a traditional accompaniment but make croutons if you have none.