New England clam chowder ranks in my Top 10 list of comfort foods, and it’s one of my favorite things to order in seafood restaurants. Recipes for clam chowder are hotly contested, and if you get into a discussion about chowder with New Englanders you are likely to get a wide variety of opinions on what is the best clam chowder. When I fix this soup I feel like I’m back in Maine, and that’s good enough for me; serve it en boule and I think I’ve died and gone to heaven.
This recipe starts with cooking some bacon, then sautéing onions in the bacon drippings, cooking it all with clams, clam juice or stock, potatoes, thyme, and bay leaf, and then adding the clams and corn and thickening it all up with some heavy cream. This chowder doesn’t require loads of salt because of the bacon, plus canned clams are kept in brine, and the stock will be salted as well, so I use a light hand with the salt. I almost always use more than the amount of bacon specified in a recipe because I love my bacon. I confess I had a 12-ounce package and it all went into the pot for this chowder. All that flavor gets into the onions and then the flour soaks up some of it and it infuses the potatoes and mixes with the clams and creates a thing of beauty. We only have bacon a few times a year, so by golly I’m going to enjoy it!
If you are a die-hard steam-your-own-clams type, then by all means go for it. If we lived right on the coast and could get them fresh all the time, I would probably steam them myself, but canned minced clams are more economical for us, so that’s what we use.
Fresh herbs add to the flavor, and bay and thyme are traditional herbs to add to clam chowder. Adding parsley during the last few minutes adds a bit of fresh flavor that balances the woodiness of the bay and thyme. The parsley and thyme came from my indoor garden, and hopefully in a few years my little bay laurel tree by the window will have grown some more and I will pick the leaves to toss into the pot for soups like this, but right now he’s still a little guy with just a few leaves so I use dried. I’m hopeful he’ll survive the next couple years as Monkey Boy (toddler) and Top Gun (almost 4) like the leaves, and I found Monkey Boy chewing on one this week!
This is my contribution to this week’s edition of Weekend Herb Blogging, a weekly event founded two years ago by the wonderful Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen. This week’s host is Cate of Sweetnicks, so check out the blog next week for the round-up!
P.S. I made that little boule using the instructions in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Post on that coming soon!
[Updated January 11, 2014.]
NEW ENGLAND CLAM CHOWDER
5 to 6-quart pot or Dutch oven with lid
4 slices (or more) thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
16 ounces (472 ml) clam broth
4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (about 1-1/2 pounds), scrubbed and diced medium
1 large bay leaf
1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
3 (6.5-ounce/184 g) cans minced clams, strained, reserving the juice
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels (135 g), thawed if from frozen
16 ounces (472 ml) heavy cream
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves, plus more for garnish
sea salt to taste
fresh ground black pepper
1. Warm the pot over medium heat and fry the bacon until the fat renders and the bacon starts to crisp. Add the onion and cook until it’s translucent. Stir in the flour and cook it until the mixture is lightly browned and has a slightly nutty flavor. If you can still taste flour, it’s not ready.
2. Gradually whisk in clam broth and the reserved clam juice from clams. Add potatoes, bay leaf, and thyme. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. (Optional: Mash the potatoes a bit with a potato masher to help thicken the soup even more.)
3. Add the clams, corn, cream, parsley, salt (taste first, may not be necessary) and ground pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and serve garnished with parsley and oyster crackers or in a bread bowl.