Give a choice between Manhattan and New England clam chowder, I’ll always take New England. To be honest, I don’t really bother with the Manhattan variety, like, well… ever. To me, a chowder just isn’t a chowder without a little cream in it.
This recipe comes courtesy of my sweet friends Ron and Bailey. Well, not the recipe per se, but had they not gifted me a giant bucket of clams, I probably never would have made it. Ron recently dug up a bunch of top-neck and cherrystone clams in Barnegat Bay, because that’s just the sort of thing Ron does in his spare time. R+B (as we affectionately call them) had been eating them for days and had gotten all-clammed-out, so they offered to unload the rest on us. Naturally, I was thrilled.
I was excited, but knew I had a challenge on my hands. What was I going to do with all of them? I typically only cook with littlenecks, and had never really messed with the big boys before. That first night I made them casino style, and although I was afraid the meat would be overwhelming, they were actually really tasty. But that only accounted for maybe an 1/8th of what we had, so I threw the rest into a cooler, shoveled ice on top, and took a little time to devise a plan.
Chowder was an obvious thought, the only problem was that it’s been anything but soup weather here lately. We’re almost always bundled up with the heat on by now, which is why it’s so strange to think that it’s almost November and I’m still walking around in shorts. I realize I talk about the weather a lot on this blog, but it’s only because it has such a direct influence on what I cook. When it’s sticky and warm outside, the last thing I want is soup. But, alas, I made it anyway.
I had to cook the clams in 3 large batches because there were so-freaking-many of them. After removing the meat from the shells, I knew I had too much for even a massive pot of soup. So I placed half in a plastic quart container, topped them with some of the cooking liquid, and popped it into the freezer. Fingers crossed they’ll serve me well in a few months when we do, in fact, have some soup weather.
The rest of the clams got chopped up and stirred into this chowder. It’s quite simple, as a I think a chowder recipe should be. It’s a little more involved than my mom’s famous fish chowder, but it’s really not all that different. It starts with a base of bacon, gets lightly scented with thyme and bay, and is thickened up with a bit of flour. Other than that and the addition of clams, it’s more or less the same.
The clams can become quite chewy as they sit in the hot liquid, so I have to stress the importance of chopping them up very finely. Chopping them into tiny bits ensures they meld perfectly into the soup rather than becoming floating chunks of chewing gum. If you haven’t been gifted a massive bucket of clams by your dear friends, fret not. I’m a big fan of canned clams and bottled clam juice. Not only will they taste wonderful in the soup, they’ll make your life a whole lot easier.
Due to the flour and cream, this recipe isn’t the best for freezing, so you’ll want to eat it up within a few days. Luckily, like most soups, it’s even better leftover.
One Year Ago: Linguine alle Vongole (more clams!), Apple Cider Baked Doughnuts
Two Years Ago: Perfect Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Roasted Grape + Radicchio Salad with Pickled Fennel, Gorgonzola and Walnuts, Brown Butter Apple Crisp
Three Years Ago: Jerk Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Crispy Chick Peas
Four Years Ago: Fairy Tale Eggplant Pasta
- 6 ounces bacon, diced
- 1 very large or 2 small-medium onions, minced
- 6 celery stalks, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup flour
- 4 cups clam juice*
- 2 cups water
- 1 large sprig thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 lbs red skinned potatoes, diced
- freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- 1 1/2 cups finely chopped clams*
- 2 cups heavy cream
- fresh chives or parsley, minced
- salt, if needed at all
- crusty bread for serving
- Add bacon to a large pot over medium heat and cook until crisp, about 10 minutes.
- Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat, then add the onion and celery. Cook until translucent, about 8 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add flour and stir until combined.
- Add the clam juice, water, thyme, bay leaf, and potatoes. Bring up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Season with pepper, cover, and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
- Stir in clams, heavy cream, and chives or parsley. Discard bay leaf and thyme sprig (if desired). Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
- Serve hot with crusty bread on the side.
- *If using fresh clams, you’ll need about 6 lbs of cherrystones to get 1 1/2 cups of meat. Steam them with a little bit of water until they just open, then remove them from the shells and chop very finely. Strain and save the cooking liquid to use as the clam juice in the broth, but taste it first. If it is very salty, go easy on it and use more water instead.
- **If using canned clams and bottled juice, you’ll need 4 bottles of clam juice and 3 6.5 ounce cans of chopped clams.