Until a couple of years ago, I swore that I hated clams...so clam chowder had never touched my lips. That all changed with a visit to San Francisco, when we tried clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl at Fisherman's Wharf. One bite, and we were hooked. Last fall, I tried my hand at making clam chowder at home...and it came out really yummy. I soon discovered that, much like gumbo, there are a lot of variations on the clam chowder theme. Rhonda's version includes bacon...which immediately caught my eye. The only big tweak I made to the recipe was to sub chicken stock for the bottled clam juice...my fault for not reading for comprehension when I made my grocery list!
New England Clam Chowder
adapted from The Kitchen Witch
Step 1: Heat a large Dutch oven over med heat. Add two slices diced bacon and cook until the fat is rendered, but don't let it get crispy. Add 2 tbs. butter, 3/4 cup diced yellow onion, and 2 sliced celery stalks. Stir to combine and cook until tender -- about 10 minutes. Add two bay leaves and 1 tsp. dried thyme. Stir to combine.
Step 2: Peel and dice three medium Yukon gold potatoes. Add to Dutch oven and add the juice from two cans of clams and 2 cups chicken stock (or a bottle of clam juice). The fluid should just cover the potatoes...if not, add a bit more stock. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Cook until the potatoes are tender -- between 10-15 minutes.
Step 3: When the potatoes are cooked, add the clams and 1 cup half and half (use heavy cream if you're feeling extra-indulgent!). Stir to combine and simmer just until the clams are cooked through -- about five minutes.
Step 4: Add a bit of fresh-ground pepper and salt to taste. Ladle the chowder into serving bowls and serve with some nice crusty bread on the side. I was so eager to dig in that I forgot one step -- before serving, top each bowl with a pat of butter and sprinkle of thyme leaves or chopped parsley.
This chowder is off-the-hook good! It's a a bit thinner than the chowder we had in San Francisco, which was roux-based...but the flavor of this chowder is just amazing. I used half and half instead of cream, and the chowder was plenty rich and indulgent for our tastes. The smoky bacon flavor is what takes this chowder over the edge. I made a half batch of the original recipe, so double it if you have a larger crowd to feed. This batch made four large servings. Since this chowder is a hearty meal-in-a-bowl, I simply served it with strips of buttered, toasted sourdough for dunking into the chowder.