This weekend we had my sister in law and brother in law (and nephew) over for dinner. I was asking my husband what we should have, as nothing was really coming to me. “Chowder,” he said. Well, I like a good challenge (probably why I joined daring bakers), and I like to make things from scratch.
So I took to the internet, looking for good chowder recipes. Of the New England variety, of course. And to be quite honest, it was tough. SO many recipes called for canned clams, which was an abomination to me, seeing as I live on the water. Or at least in a city on a harbor. But I guess people in the midwest need their clams as well.
Finding a good recipe that used fresh clams, and that was thick and hearty (there is nothing I love more than thick and hearty chowder) was definitely a challenge. Oh, did I mention that I don’t eat seafood (much to the dismay of my husband, who grew up on Cape Cod and also Long Island Sound), and will only eat tuna out of a can and clam chowder? I’m working on it people, I’m really trying. So this was the only seafood dish I would really make for him.
I went back to a cookbook my mom always used, The New Basics Cookbook, and adapted their recipe. I also went on a hunt for fresh clams, my first place didn’t have them, so we ended up at Yankee Lobster Fish Market down on the Boston waterfront. It was a door in the wall that said retail (behind their restaurant storefront) with TANKS of fresh seafood. I’m pretty sure they are used to dealing with much bigger orders than we gave them, but the clams were great and pretty reasonably priced.
Did I mention that if you’re on a diet, this is not the chowder for you?
2 dozen cherrystone clams, well scrubbed
2 cups water (if using a big steamer, at least double this amount)
8 oz slab bacon, cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large onions, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (I at least doubled this amount, I like it THICK)
6 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice (my husband said mine weren’t small enough)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Place the clams in a large soup pot along with the 2 cups (or more, for a steamer) water. Cover, and cook over medium heat until the clams open wide. Discard any that don’t open.
Remove the clams from their shells, and coarsley chop them.
Strain, reserve the broth.
Cook the bacon in the soup pot over low heat until fat is rendered and the bacon is wilted and slightly browned around the edges, about 5 minutes.
Add the butter and onions, and cook, stirring, until the onions are wilted, about 10 minutes. There is nothing quite like the smell of bacon, onions, and butter cooking together. Add the flour and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes.
Add the reserved clam broth, potatoes, thyme, and pepper. Simmer another 5 minutes. I also added in some celery and carrots for color, and cooked this all a bit longer than the recipe called for, no one wants undercooked potatoes. Also, if it’s WAY too thick, just keep adding in more clam broth.
Add the reserved and choped clams and simmer, stirring often, until they are tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Do not overcook, or the clams will be tough.
Add the milk and cream, and stir well over very low heat until hot. Do not boil, or the soup will curdle. Adjust the seasonings, stir in the parsley, and serve immediately with a good crusty bread or oyster crackers.