Soup season rolled on the early side this year, and I am here for it, happy cooking it, thinking about which one to make next, and savoring the batches we have on hand all winter long. Clam chowder is a longtime favorite for me, and this is the type I love the most. With National Soup Month still happening, and my interest captured by an online notice that this past Monday was National New England Clam Chowder Day, I knew it was time.
As a Southerner I have much to learn about the culinary traditions of the Northeastern United States, but one thing I have known since childhood is that Manhattan clam chowder has tomatoes and that New England clam chowder does not. Not only does it leave tomatoes out, it puts milk or cream in, and that is something very pleasing to me, though I do enjoy Manhattan, too. There’s room! Many New England clam chowder recipes begin with a simple roux of flour-butter-milk as the means to thicken the soup. That step is sometimes handled poorly, so I looked around for versions which didn’t require that method, and found a good supply of them.
Most recipes I encountered started with salt pork, which can be the easily obtained smoky bacon, rendered and then used to cook onions and celery to aromatic tenderness.
Celery stalks go in next, and then the pot gets filled with clam broth, diced potatoes, salt, and pepper. Simmering begins, just till the potatoes are tender, and cream or half-and-half goes in at the very end, as do clams. Many New England clam chowder versions call for a cooked roux: stirring flour into melted butter, and cooking it into the broth as a means of thickening it and adding creaminess.
This recipe comes from Fine Cooking magazine, in a feature story by Allison Ehri Kreitler. CLICK HERE for a link to her story and recipe in Fine Cooking: She calls for cream rather than a cooked roux. Noting that several commenters on the recipe online had used half-and-half with good results, I decided to save the cream for deserts and use evaporated milk, my dependable kitchen favorite.
After the potatoes cook in the broth, you puree a cup or so of the solid ingredients in a food processor or blender ( or mash it against the side of the pot, or use a potato masher, or an immersion blender). This adds creamy texture easily, and leaves the soup almost ready to serve. Last step is stirring in cream or milk and adding the clams, and clam broth.
We loved this soup and decided it needs to be in rotation through the next two months.
I’ll be looking for cherrystone clams in the fish markets, because making clam chowder starting with clams in the shell would be a satisfying winter project. But for now, I’m makign a note to buy more canned clams so that this can be our go-to-pantry supper. Good enough for a special occasion, simple enough for busy week nights. Compared to meaty long-simmering stews, this practically makes itself, aside from some chopping of onions and peeling of potatoes.
If you research this dish even a little, you will see that small round commercially made oyster crackers are practically required as an accompaniment. We’ve always made do with saltine crackers and I think that’s where we will leave it. Ain’t broke — nothing to fix here!
We are so glad to have some left over for tomorrow night’s supper. Nothing like a delightful delicious head-start on dinner! Stay tuned here — I’m now looking up Manhattan clam chowder, and also the Providence Rhode Island version. If you have a favorite, or a chowder tale, let me know in the comments. You know I love the food, but the stories boost the flavor in the most wonderful way.
- 3 oz. thick-cut bacon (2 to 3 slices), cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips
- 3 tablespoonsunsalted butter
- 1 large yellow onion, cut into small dice (about 2 cups)
- 4 tender inner celery stalks, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 1 cup)
- 4 cups diluted clam broth, plus the reserved clam meat (1-1/2 to 2 cups), finely chopped
- 2 lb. large Yukon Gold potatoes or Idaho russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 4-1/2 cups)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (optional)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup heavy cream, or half-and-half, or evaporated milk
- 3 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Kosher salt ( I used 1/2 to 1 teaspoon)
- In a 5 quart Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium-high heat, stirring often, until just starting to brown, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add the butter and the chopped onion, and cover the pot; cook until onion is shiny and softened but now browned, 6 to 8 minutes.
- Uncover, stir in celery and cook, tossing now and then, until softened and fragrant, about 5 minutes more.
- Add the clam broth, potatoes, bay leaves, thyme, and 1 tsp. pepper. Increase heat to high and bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a lively simmer and cook, partially covered, until potatoes are tender, 8 - 10 minutes; Remove and discard bay leaves.
- Purée 1 cup of the soup solids with just enough liquid to cover in a food processor or blender, and add it back to the soup.
- Add the evaporated milk or cream, and bring to a boil; stir well.
- Remove the soup from the heat, wait until it stops simmering (this may take a minute if you’re using a Dutch oven), and stir in the clams and parsley.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve hot..