Easy New England Clam Chowder

clamchowder

This version of a New England classic is as easy as it is delicious.  Perfect for a cold night, it is garnished with bacon bits and oyster crackers and is best served with a rustic, crusty bread (for dipping) or warm biscuits.

Growing up in Massachusetts my family and I used to take an annual vacation down to a little island called Planting Island just off of Cape Cod.  I remember gathering clams from the muck in the shallow, brackish waters behind the causeway that led to the island.  My cousin would then make a delicious chowder.  This recipe, however, uses canned clams rather than fresh ones because fresh ones are an enormous pain in the rear end to gather, scrub, steam and de-sand.  A true New Englander would probably shoot me, but being a California transplant fresh clams are in short supply and I’ve never noticed an appreciable difference.  Without further ado, here goes:

Time: 60 Minutes
Level: Easy
Cost: $4-6/plate
Serves: 4-6

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp butter, divided
  • 4 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 large white onion, diced
  • 1.5 – 2 cups celery, diced
  • 3-5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp tobasco (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and chunked
  • 1 15oz can low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 bottle clam juice
  • juice from 4 (4oz) canned clams (3 cans minced, 1 chopped)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbsp cold water (optional for thickening; this is called a slurry, by the way)

Instructions

  1. In a large saucepan, sauté bacon until nearly all the fat is rendered and bacon is well browned (Note:  You’re going to brown it a lot more than you would when you’re cooking breakfast, you want to be able to crush it in your hands to make bacon bits!)  Remove bacon from pan with slotted spoon and set aside on paper towels to drain.
  2. Remove pan from heat and melt 1 Tbsp butter in bacon fat.  Reduce heat to medium and return the pan to the stove
    1. Note:  Make sure the fat has cooled somewhat; you don’t want hot bacon grease splattering everywhere in the next step!  Also, it will burn your ingredients and the whole meal will taste burnt.  This is really important, and is the only place where you can really screw up this recipe.  If you’re not sure how hot the fat is, toss ONE little piece of onion into the fat; if it crackles loudly and grease spatters everywhere, it’s still too hot.  You basically don’t want anything to react when you toss it in the pan.
  3. Add onion, garlic, celery and parsley to pan and sauté in bacon fat until onion is translucent, 3-5 minutes.  (This combination of stuff is called a sofríto, by the way).
  4. If using, add Tabasco and cayenne and saute until fragrant, 1 minute (Trust me on this, use these ingredients – I know it sounds crazy in clam chowder but it adds a nice zing without being overpowering)
  5. Add potatoes, chicken broth, bottle of clam juice, and juice from canned clams.  If there isn’t enough liquid to cover the potatoes by at least 1/2 inch, add warm water until the potatoes are submerged.  Cover, bring to a rapid boil, remove cover, reduce heat to a simmer, and allow liquid to reduce and sauce to thicken until potatoes are cooked through, 20 – 30 minutes (test the potatoes by sticking a fork in them).
  6. Once sauce has reached desired consistency and potatoes are done, stir in clams, cream, and remaining butter.  Bring to a simmer and allow to cook for 5 minutes more (clams don’t take long to cook).
  7. If your chowder isn’t thick enough, add the slurry of cornstarch and water.
  8. Turn off heat and stir for 3 -5 minutes to aid the cooling process and help flavors marry.

Serve into bowls and garnish with reserved bacon bits and oyster crackers.  Serve with bread or biscuits.

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