Having lived in New England for just under fifteen years, I consider myself a bit of a clam chowder (or “chowdah” as I used to say) snob. There are countless recipes for New England Clam Chowder, many of which claim to be “traditional.” Of course traditions vary from region to region and family to family, but there are just certain ingredients (leeks, carrots, corn, bell peppers) which, in my opinion, do not belong in authentic New England style Clam Chowder. In addition to disparate opinions about ingredients, there are long standing disagreements (even within my own household) as to the proper thickness of the chowder. I like a really thick and hearty chowder, but I don’t think it meets the “traditional” criteria. To me, traditional chowder is creamy and buttery, but not stick to the spoon thick. So, as you embark on your clam chowder journey, ask yourself what kind of chowder you like, and make it that way. It’s easy enough to thicken the chowder, so you can literally make chowder to suit the different preferences of your family (a necessity for me since they are my critics). If you follow this recipe, you will have the opportunity to further thicken the chowder at the end. I reserved about 1/3 of the chowder in its original thickness and thickened the other 2/3.
- 2 Slices of Good Quality Bacon – finely chopped
- 1 Medium Onion (sweet, white or Spanish) – finely chopped (about 1 Cup)
- 2-3 Ribs of Celery – finely chopped (about 1/2 Cup)
- 4-5 White or Golden Potatoes – peeled and diced (about 1/3- 1/2 inch pieces)
- 1 Bay Leaf
- 1/4 Cup Flour
- 4 TBS. Unsalted Butter
- 32 Oz. Bottled Clam Juice
- 3-4 Cans (6.5 Oz.) of Chopped or Minced Clams* or 1 Lb. Fresh Chopped Clams
- 3 Cups of Milk or Cream (I use 1 Cup Cream+ 2 Cups of Milk)**
- Salt and Pepper
- 3-5 TBS. Corn Starch (Optional – use for extra thickening)
In a large pot, cook bacon until browned. Add onion and celery to pot, cook until tender. Add butter and flour and cook over medium heat for an additional 5-8 minutes to make a roux. The bottom of the pan will be sticky and gross, don’t worry, it will be deglazed. Add clam juice and scrape the bottom of the pot to remove all browned bits, add bay leaf and bring mixture to a boil. Add potatoes and clams.Simmer until potatoes are cooked but still firm. Add milk/cream mixture and season with salt and pepper. If you would like to further thicken chowder, transfer about 1 cup of liquid from the pot to a bowl and add 3 TBS. of corn starch; mix until corn starch is incorporated with no lumps. Return mixture to pot and cook for an additional 3-5 minutes. If desired thickness is not reached, repeat previous step with remaining 2 TBS. of corn starch. Garnish with chopped parsley.
* Use chopped clams if you like heartier clams; use minced clams if you want the clam flavor without the larger (sometimes chewy) clam pieces. I use a combination of both (2 cups chopped, 1 cup minced). If you like a lot of clams in your chowder, use 4 cans (any combination).
**You can save a lot of calories by using milk (1-2%) instead of cream. If you are going to go the thick route and add corn starch, you won’t notice the difference. If you aren’t going to thicken with corn starch, you will probably appreciate the richer creamier flavor gained by the addition of at least 1 cup of heavy cream or 1/2 and 1/2.