One recent Summer afternoon at Sam's Chowder House, I enjoyed some of the best New England clam chowder I'd ever had. Ever since, then, I've had lingering thoughts of making an inspired version at home, which was further encouraged when I came across a copy of The Summer Shack Cookbook, in which I earmarked a promising recipe for fresh-from-scratch, authentic New England clam chowder.
The recipe calls for quahogs, the unofficial chowder clam of New England, but since those aren't widely available on the West Coast, I substituted them with Manila clams. You can use any kind that works for you. For a taste of the ocean,
10 pounds small quahogs or large cherrystone clams
2 cups water
4 ounces meaty salt pork, rind removed and cut into small (1/3-inch) dice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium yellow onions (about 12 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 stalks celery (4 ounces), cut into 1/3-inch dice
5 to 6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped (1 tablespoon)
1 large dried bay leaf
2 pounds Yukon Gold, Maine, PEI, or other all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch dice
2 cups heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher or sea salt if needed
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- Scrub the clams and rinse well. Place them in a large pot, add the water, cover, and turn the heat to high. Once you see a little steam escape from the pot, let the clams cook for about 5 minutes. Remove the lid and quickly move the clams around in the pot so they will cook evenly, then cover and cook for 5 minutes more, or until the clams open.
- Pour off the broth and reserve. After it has settled a bit, strain the broth, leaving the bottom 1/2 inch of broth (and sediment) in the container. You should have about 4 cups. Remove the clams from the shells, place in a bowl, and refrigerate until cold.
- Dice the clams into small (1/3- to 1/2-inch) pieces. Cover and refrigerate.
- Rinse and dry the pot and heat over low heat. Add the salt pork and cook until crispy and brown. Add the butter, onions, garlic, celery, thyme, and bay leaf and sauté, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 10 minutes, until the onions are softened but not browned.
- Add the potatoes and 4 cups reserved clam broth. The broth should just barely cover the potatoes; if it doesn't, add more broth or water. Turn the heat to high, cover the pot, and boil vigorously for about 10 minutes, until the potatoes are soft on the outside but still firm in the center. Smash a few potatoes against the side of the pot and stir them into the chowder to lightly thicken it.
- Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cream and diced clams. Season with black pepper; you may not need salt (the clams usually add enough of their own). If you are serving the chowder within the hour, just let it sit and "cure." Otherwise, let cool to room temperature and refrigerate it; cover it after it has chilled.
- When ready to serve, reheat the chowder slowly over medium heat; do not let it boil. Ladle into cups or bowls and sprinkle with the parsley.
Makes 3 quarts; serves 12 as an appetizer or 6 to 8 as a main course.
- Soups/Stews, Chowder
- North American