A clam chowder is nothing more or less than a soup made with clams and broth. In New England the broth contains cream and is rather white; in Rhode Island the broth is semi-transparent and in Manhattan the broth is red as it contains tomatoes. 

The art of making a New England Clam Chowder

In this recipe we have abstained from adding flour or starch to thicken the soup as it may masque some of the subtle taste characteristics of this soup. Also we have reduced significantly the use of cream in this soup. The thickening comes from blending vegetables and cooked potatoes. If you want a thicker soup, just add more heavy cream. The soup is at its best the next day.

Special equipment

  • fine mesh strainer
clam chowder photo: ©️Nel Brouwer-van den Bergh

Clam Chowder from New England

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Course: Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine: American
Keyword: clams, cream, no starch or flour thickening
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 55 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings: 6

Ingredients

Ingredients for making the clams and broth

  • 1/4 onion (around 55 g)
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper
  • 2.87 lbs (1.3 kg) fresh clams (including shells and enclosed seawater)
  • 0.64 quarts (0.6 liter) (purified) water
  • 1 bay leave

Ingredients to make the chowder

  • all the above broth (around 1 quart (0.95 liter))
  • all the above clam meat (finely cut, around 4.59 oz or 130 g)
  • 3/8 onion (around 80 g)
  • 1/2 white of a leek (64 g)
  • 1 cellery stick (45 g)
  • 1-2 potatoes (1/2 lb or 225 g after peeling)
  • 2.65 oz (75 g) sliced bacon
  • 1 tbsp brandy
  • 6 tbsp (90 ml) cooking cream (20% fat)
  • 1 bay leave
  • 1 tbsp finely diced parsley (optional)
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1-2 scallions (optional)

Ingredients to clean the clams

  • 2 quarts (1.9 liter) purified water
  • 2.3 oz (65 g) cooking salt or similar

Instructions

Instructions to make the broth and clam meat

  • When using fresh clams, place them in a 3.5% salt solution (1.13 oz salt per quart (35 g per liter)) at room temperature and let the clams clean themselves. For this amount you need 2 quarts (1.9 liters) to keep the clams submerged. You can store them this way for at least half a day, may be a day or more if they are really fresh. 
    If you use canned clams and broth, follow the instructions on the can. This recipe is for 6 persons and uses 130 g clam meat and 1 quart (0.95 liter) clam broth
    clams photo: ©️Nel Brouwer-van den Bergh
  • Now place 1/4 of the roughly cut onion, some freshly ground pepper, one bay leave and  0.65 quarts (0.6 liter) water in a pan and bring to the boil. When it is boiling, add the drained, fresh clams (at a weight of around 2.9 lbs (1.3 kg)) and watch regularly. Usually 2 minutes after the mixture is boiling again all clams have opened. 
  • Drain the mixture over a fine mesh strainer and let the clams (and onions) further cool down. Reserve the broth! 
  • When cooled down, take the meat from the shells and cut it fine. Discard unopened shells and the onion pieces.  Reserve the sliced clam meat.

Instruction to make the chowder

  • Meanwhile  peel and cut the onion, cellery sticks and white of the leek and weigh them out. Cut: onions in 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch, leek in rings and cellery in 1/10 of an inch slices. Cellery leaves can be included.
    clam chowder ingredients photo: ©️Nel Brouwer-van den Bergh
  • Also peel and cut the potatoes in 1/5 x 1/5 inch (5 mm x5 mm) cubes.
  • Boil the cut potatoes in 300 ml of the clam broth for 10 minutes. Right thereafter, scoop half of the potatoes out with a slotted spoon and reserve in a separate bowl. Leave the rest in a separate bowl or pan and reserve.
  • Meanwhile in a large enough pan, fry the slices of bacon on both sides until rather crispy (5 min) Take the slices of bacon out let cool down and reserve.
  • To the pan with the bacon fat, add first the onions and fry at high fire for 1-2 minutes, thereafter add the sliced garlic, the sliced leeks and the sliced cellery, each with a minute in between. Then reduce the heat to low and let the whole mixture become glazy or golden in color (15-20 min). Watch and mix regularly. Do not let the vegetables get dark brown. 
  • After 20 minutes, add 1 tbsp of brandy and scrap the pan with a wooden spatula and mix the contents. (1 min)
  • Then add the one part of the cooked potatoes with their cooking fluids and the remainder of the broth to the smothered vegetables, add the thyme, bay leave and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes
  • Then use an immersion blender to homogenize the soup
  • Taste the soup. Usually there is no need to add additional salt.
  • Add the other part of the cooked potatoes, add now diced parsley (optional) stir and let stand for 10 minutes.
  • Before serving, add 1 tbsp of the cream to each bowl and decorate the soup with bacon and sliced scallions (optional) on top.
    clam chowder photo: ©️Nel Brouwer-van den Bergh

Notes

Method: pan frying, simmering
Food allergy & intolerance information: shell fish, cow milk

 

Remarks

  1. The ratio of fresh clams and water to make the broth is fixed. If you have fewer clams, use less water to make the broth and also bring down all other ingredients in proportion.
  2. I usually add one tablespoon of cream in each bowl just before serving. If you prefer the soup itself more creamy, add more cream to the soup, but be careful with re-heating. Do not let it boil or the cream will curdle.
  3. I usually serve the bacon as crumbles on the soup just before serving. You may also mix these in the soup
  4. Some like to use a béchamel type of thickening, but be careful that the taste does not get lost by adsorption to the flour. For delicate soups as clam chowder, I prefer not to use flour.

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