A good bowl of New England clam chowder never fails to brighten my day and it’s a fun surprise when I find it on a restaurant menu. For me, it’s a feel-good soup – right up there with Adele’s Matzo Ball Soup and Minestrone. The base is rich from the clams and clam juice, and made even better with potatoes, milk, cream and bacon. There are so many ways to make this chowder and I wanted to create an easy recipe that I could whip up at home; I started experimenting several months ago and bombed the first batch by adding carrots, too many potatoes and too much bacon, adding sherry (yuck!) and seasoning it with fine herbs. But I wasn’t giving up, I wrote down the recipe in my little binder, kept refining it and made a few discoveries: using clam juice in the broth gives it instant flavor, a little half & half makes it extra creamy and a pinch of sugar brings all the flavors together. So here you have it, the well-tested version from my kitchen.
The recipe is simplified by using canned chopped clams – my grocery store carries some that are wild-caught in the U.S., so my pantry is always stocked for instant dinner options. For more flavor, I roast the potatoes with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper rather than boiling them. Russets were used in this batch (peeled and cubed and then slightly smashed after cooking) which worked great, but my favorites are the baby Dutch potatoes because they have thin skins, cook quickly and have a creamy flavor. The soup starts with some rendered bacon lardons (bacon pieces cut into ¼ inch wide strips), sautéed onions, celery and fresh thyme, some garlic and sugar and then finished with clams, clam juice, milk and roux. It’s a fairly simple recipe for such a delicious bowl of soup.
Oyster crackers are a classic finish to the chowder; they taste like a saltine cracker but with lots more flavor and crunch. I like to garnish with a few dashes of Tabasco sauce for a subtle kick, and some chopped fresh chives for a bit of color. I hope this New England clam chowder recipe brightens your table and becomes a favorite in your own kitchen.
New England Clam Chowder
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Serves two foodies, makes about 6 cups
1 ½ medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼ inch cubes
OR 1 ½ cups baby gold potatoes (large handful, roast whole)
3 slices bacon, cut into lardons (¼ inch thick strips)
¾ cup finely diced onion (about half of large onion)
2 celery stalks, finely diced (about ½ cup)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves (about 4 stems)
½ of a small clove garlic, finely minced
½ teaspoon sugar
2 cans (6.5 oz. each) chopped clams plus their juice
(1) 8 oz. jar (1 cup) clam juice
2 ½ cups milk (1 %)
½ cup half & half
Roux: 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter and 4 tablespoons flour
Tabasco Sauce or Hot Sauce
Fresh chives, chopped
Roast the potatoes:
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F or toaster oven to 300 degrees F. Add the potatoes to an oven-proof dish and toss with a few teaspoons of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Cook for 25 to 35 minutes until just knife tender. Let cool a few minutes and lightly smash; if using baby Dutch potatoes, cut into slices or cubes.
In a Dutch oven or large stock pot over medium heat, cook the bacon pieces until crispy and browned. Turn off the heat and transfer bacon to plate lined with paper towel; remove all but 1 tablespoon of bacon drippings in the pan. Let bacon cool and set aside 1 teaspoon for garnish.
Return pan to medium heat and sauté the onions and celery with a drizzle of olive oil, fresh thyme, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and sugar and let cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the canned clams and their juice, clam juice, milk, half & half, roasted potatoes, ¼ teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper and the cooked bacon pieces; let simmer on medium for 15 minutes, stirring often.
Make the roux: melt the butter in a ramekin (or small glass bowl) in the microwave on 10 second increments until melted. Add the flour and whisk in with a fork. Add roux to the soup and stir well to dissolve. Simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes until chowder thickens, stirring often.
Serve chowder hot and garnish with Tabasco sauce, oyster crackers, extra bacon pieces and chopped fresh chives.