Wednesday, May 2, 2012

New England Clam Chowder

This week is pretty grey and dreary in Chicago, and what goes better with clouds, fog, and missing California than New England Clam Chowder?

One undeniable fact is that there are just as many clam chowders in the world as there are clam chowder lovers, and twice as many opinions about what makes the best chowder a cut above the dissenting heretical recipes. Some use salt pork to pre-flavor the pot and and veggies. Others prefer straight bacon. Some use potato starch or arrowroot as thickeners, some used smashed potatoes, and some use use flour and cream. Which variety of clams to use, which spices to use (bay leaves? thyme? black or white pepper? What about parsley?), the authenticity of this or that type of potato or the acceptability of celery: a veritable cornucopia of choices.

As a first-time chowder-maker, I tried to put together a straightforward clam chowder with no fancy moves, something that I could be proud of and couldn't mess up too badly.


  • 3 cans clams (minced or diced, see Side Note below)
  • 1 bottle clam juice (8 oz)
  • 3 oz salt pork, finely diced
  • 4 medium sized redskin potatos
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 6 springs fresh thyme leaves (removed from stalks)
  • 1/2 tbsp bay leaves
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1/3 cup chopped chives or green onions
  • 4-6 tbsp thickening starch (in this case, corn starch. See Results below.)


  1. In a large soup pot, render salt pork over medium-high heat until just crisp. Remove pork bits from the pot and discard, leaving pork fat in the pot.
  2. Reduce heat to medium-low. Saute yellow onion in the pork fat until translucent and delicious looking.
  3. Reduce heat to low. Add butter, bay leaf, thyme, and garlic, and cook 3-5 minutes until thyme is wilted. Remove bay leaf.
  4. Add potatoes, celery, juice from the canned clams, and bottled clam juice, adding additional hot water as necessary to cover vegetables. Bring liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are soft and broth is slightly thickened. Optionally, smash some of the larger potato chunks against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon to give create additional thickness.
  5. Look at all those delicious veggies, ready to be smothered in clam juice and cream.
  6. Stir in cream, green onions, salt, and pepper. Simmer and stir a few minutes until thickened somewhat.
  7. In a small bowl, make a rue of thickening starch and cold water, stirring until all clumps are dissolved. Stir rue into chowder, mixing thoroughly.
  8. Remove from heat. Fold in clams. Serve warm immediately, preferably with warm sourdough bread.

Side Note: Canned Clams and Clam Juice

On their own, the words "clam juice" are a little alarming. What is clam juice? Do clams even have juice? How does one juice a clam? Is a juice press appropriate?

No, no it is not.

Clam Juice is essentially clam broth - the liquid leftover after one steams clams. For those of us not bothering to steam our own clams (or not wanting to shell out for fresh clams in the Midwest), clam juice is just a bottled version of the same. It tastes vaguely of shellfish and clam, and it fairly high in sodium. So that's one mystery solved.

The second question: what's the different between the "chopped" and "minced" varieties of canned clams you see on the shelf? These seem to be the two levels of chopped-ness that clams come in, across brands.

So what's the difference? As far as I can see, not a darn thing:
Minced on the left, chopped on the right. And not a lick of difference between them.
Same quantity of clam, same density of clam, same bell curve of clam-piece sizes with the same standard deviation and amplitude. So really, get either chopped or minced, because at least to Bumblebee Seafood, they mean the same thing.


This hit the spot right on. Really, with cream, clams, saute'd onions, and veggies, how can you go wrong? The salt pork added a lot of flavor (well, fat) without turning this into a bacon chowder. The onions came out soft and delicious, and though I don't often have celery in my clam chowder, I really enjoyed the crunch it gave the final creation. We ate it with a loaf of no-knead bread (more on that later), which was fresh, hot, and great with chowder. Next goal? Homemade bread bowls.

So much flavor and texture in every bite!
The one major change I'd make next time would be to change up the starch used to thicken things up a bit at the end. The chowder left a little bit of a mealy texture in one's mouth, which I think has to do with using corn starch, as it has a tendency to coagulate into clumps under heat. Not that this was exposed to an extreme amount of heat, but for the sake of texture, a starch experiment may need to be in order.
Mike's in the middle of saying "Soooo good!"

No comments:

Post a Comment