NEW ENGLAND CLAM CHOWDER
Manhattan clam chowder has nothing on New England clam “chowda.” A proper New England clam chowder should consist of a delicate and creamy, slightly thickened broth (but not sludgy) that contains a hint of smokiness from bacon and an abundance of clams.
My true appreciation for New England clam chowder came from going to Martha’s Vineyard during the summer when I was younger. My brother and I would take our kayaks out in the water with our Dad and our family friend, Sam, to go clamming. You use a large rake to dig through and find the clams under the sand. When we got back to the beach house, Sam would make us clam chowder with the clams that we brought in. My brother, ever the adventurous eater, would have clam chowder as a side to his pancakes for breakfast then steamed clams with garlic butter for lunch. At first I was too picky of an eater to try it, but I eventually came around and, while I never had it for breakfast, New England clam chowder is always a summer favorite of mine.
If clams are out of season of if you can’t find fresh ones, you can substitute with one pound of chopped canned clams and 2½ cups of clam juice (in place of the steamed clams and water). If you are using fresh clams, discard any clams that are already partly opened before steaming or ones that do not open after steaming as they are already dead and likely have gone bad.
3 pounds littleneck clams, scrubbed
6 ounces bacon, sliced into strips
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
½ cup finely diced celery
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1 pound Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into ½” cubes
1 sprig of fresh thyme
2 cups heavy cream
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped
Oyster crackers, as needed, for serving
Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Bring 3 cups of water to the boil, add the clams and cover the pot. Cook until the clams have all opened, about 8 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and set a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Pour the clams through the strainer and reserve the cooking liquid. Once the clams have cooled, remove the meat from the shells, and discard the shells. Chop the clams and set aside.
Add the bacon to a large heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Cook the bacon until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crispy, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon, reserving as much fat in the pan as possible. Add the butter and allow to melt then add the onion and celery.
Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and opaque, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes, until the flour is pale brown.
Add the chicken stock, 2½ cups of the reserved cooking liquid, bay leaves, potatoes, and thyme. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer for about 30 minutes, continuing to stir occasionally, until the potatoes are tender. Stir in the cream and continue to simmer for an additional 10 minutes.
Discard the bay leaves and sprig of thyme. Add the bacon and clams to the broth, then stir in the Worcestershire and season to taste with salt and pepper.
To serve, ladle soup into bowls, top with chives, and serve piping hot with oyster crackers on the side.