Clam Chowder

The real deal from New England, with fresh clams of course.
TIME About 1 hour
MAKES 4 servings
About 3 pounds littleneck or other hard-shell clams, well scrubbed, those with broken shells discarded
4 slices bacon (about 4 ounces), chopped
1 large onion, chopped
½ pound all-purpose potatoes, like Yukon Gold, peeled if you like
4 cups fish, chicken, or vegetable stock or water
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or ½ teaspoon dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup milk
1 cup cream or half-and-half
1 tablespoon butter, optional
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

1 Put 2 cups water in a large pot over high heat, add the clams, cover, and bring to a boil. Cook until most of the clams open, 3 to 5 minutes after the water starts boiling, then remove them from the pot, reserving the cooking water. Let the clams cool.

2 Remove the meat from the clams (if any are still closed, open them with a dull knife) and discard the shells. Cut them into bite-sized pieces. Carefully pour the liquid —but not the grit—into a small bowl. Rinse and dry the pot.

3 Put the bacon in the pot over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until it renders fat and gets a little crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it softens a little, a minute or two.

4 Meanwhile, cut the potatoes into about ½-inch cubes. Add the stock, reserved clamcooking liquid, potatoes, and thyme to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. If you want a thicker soup, roughly mash the potatoes with a potato masher.

5 Sprinkle the soup with salt and pepper, then add the milk and cream. Reduce the heat to low, add the clams, and bring just to a gentle bubble. Turn off the heat, add the butter if you’re using it, and stir until it melts. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt or pepper, then garnish with the parsley and serve.

  • Manhattan-Style Clam Chowder: Skip the potatoes, milk, and cream. Add 1 cup chopped carrot, 1 cup chopped celery, and 3 cups chopped tomatoes (canned are fine; don’t bother to drain) along with the stock and clam liquid in Step 4.
  • Fish Chowder: Skip the clams and cook 2 cups chopped sturdy white fish (like cod or halibut) in the water in Step 1. Then just continue with the recipe.

  • Hard-shell clams—which include littlenecks, cherrystones, and quahogs—often have some sandy residue on the outside of their shells (their insides are almost always sand-free), so they need a bit of rinsing—sometimes even scrubbing with a stiff brush—under running water before you use them. Always discard any clams that aren’t tightly closed or have broken shells when you go to use them (this goes for mussels and oysters too).
  • Call me a purist, but I don’t like to thicken clam chowder with flour—it buries the subtle flavor of the clams.

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