Craving a Classic: New England Clam Chowder

Post image for Craving a Classic: New England Clam Chowder

One of my all-time favorite children’s stories is “Blue Moose” by Daniel Pinkwater. Like many of Pinkwater’s stories it is an offbeat tale, populated with quirky characters, beautifully and evocatively written. In it, a large blue moose ambles into a restaurant in the snowy woods of Maine. The proprietor, unable to shoo the moose away, relents and invites him into the kitchen, feeding him bowls of clam chowder, fresh gingerbread, and steaming cups of coffee. The moose slurps his chowder appreciatively, inhaling its briny perfume and reveling in its creamy comfort. He is given a room and stays on as headwaiter, serving the restaurant’s loyal, if taciturn, customers and confounding the local game warden.

Every year right about now I reread this story and make a pot of chowder. I’m not quite sure what compels me to do this in late February, as opposed to, say, early December or mid-January. It is just one of those seasonal cravings that kicks in of its own accord and I merely submit to it.

But why am I writing about chowder, a distinctly American dish, on a blog devoted to Italian home cooking? The answer is that none of us cooks in a vacuum. Although I am 100 percent Italian, I was born in New York and raised in New Jersey, and my dad, whose parents were from Italy, was born and raised in Rhode Island. So we’ve always been big chowder lovers in my family. I’ve even had the pleasure of serving as a judge in an annual unofficial—but totally serious—chowder competition staged by a group of chowder aficionados in Annapolis whose winning entries in past years have included a lovely, if unconventional, curried succotash chowder and an excellent Maryland rockfish chowder. (I wrote a piece about chowder and the competition last year for NPR Kitchen Window.)

This year, I’m making a classic—New England clam chowder, featuring those beautiful cherrystones that you see at the top of this post. The recipe is adapted slightly from one in The Best Recipe Soups & Stews, by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated. I added a splash of vino because, after all, I am Italian.

(P.S. Special thanks to Adriana for scrubbing all the clams and Scott for shucking, chopping, mincing, and other prep duties requiring two hands.)

Makes 6 servings

New England Clam Chowder

Adapted from The Best Recipe Soups & Stews, by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated

Ingredients

  • 7 pounds medium-sized hard-shell clams, such as cherrystones (shells no bigger than 4 inches wide), washed and scrubbed clean
  • Bottled clam juice, if needed
  • 4 to 5 slices thick-cut bacon (about 4 ounces), cut into 1/4-inch strips
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped medium
  • 1/2 cup dry fruity white wine (I used Vermentino di Sardegna)
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 pounds red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 4 or 5 small sprigs thyme
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste

Instructions

Bring 3 cups water to a boil in a large stockpot. Add the clams and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Cook for 5 minutes, uncover, and stir with a wooden spoon. Quickly cover the pot and steam until the clams just begin to open, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer the clams to a large bowl and cool slightly. Open the clams with a paring knife or clam knife, holding the clams over a bowl to catch all the juices. With the knife, sever the muscle that attaches the clam belly to the shell and transfer the meat to a cutting board. Discard the shells. Mince the clams, taking care to scrape away any dark green pasty stuff (the contents of the clam belly). Put the minced clams in a bowl and set aside.

Pour the clam broth from the pot, and any juices collected in the bowl, through a fine-mesh sieve lined with damp cheesecloth and into a 2-quart liquid-measuring cup. You should have about 5 cups; if not, add bottled clam juice to make 5 cups.

Put the bacon in a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot and fry it over medium-low heat, stirring now and again, until the fat renders and the bacon crisps, about 10 minutes. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 7 to 8 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high and pour in the wine. Let it bubble for a minute or so and return the heat to medium-low. Sprinkle in the flour and stir until lightly colored, 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually stir in the reserved clam broth. Add the potatoes, bay leaf, and thyme and simmer until the potatoes are tender but not mushy, 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir in the clams, cream, parsley, and a generous grinding of pepper. Taste and add salt if you like (between the saltiness of the bacon and the clam broth, my chowder was salty enough). Remove from the heat, discard the bay leaf and thyme sprigs, and serve immediately.

,

31 Responses to Craving a Classic: New England Clam Chowder

  1. Adri Barr February 24, 2012 at 12:38 am #

    What a charming post! I am unfamiliar with “Blue Moose”, but it sounds like an absolute delight. Having no children I often miss out on such wonders! And I could not agree more with your comment that none of us cooks in a vacuum. We cook in the big diverse world in which we live, and all sorts of foodstuffs catch our fancy. And wouldn’t it be a pity if just because something was “not Italian” we refused to write about it?

    When I saw that you had a new post, and with clams, no less, well, need I say the nurse in me began to fret as to just how you opened those little darlings. I am pleased to hear you enlisted assistance. I hope you are following MD’s orders, and that you are progressing apace. I send my best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery.

    • Domenica February 24, 2012 at 8:52 am #

      Thank you, Adri. The doctor actually admonished me yesterday for not moving my finger enough, so I promised to keep up with my bending and straightening exercises. As for Blue Moose, it’s a charming story but I also love it because it reminds me of the days when I used to read to my little kiddies at bedtime. It’s one of the things I miss most now that they are sooooo old (15 & 13).

  2. Frank February 24, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    I really love New England Clam Chowder. (Even though I’m a New Yorker by birth, I much prefer it to the Manhattan variety.) But oddly enough I’ve never made it at home. That’ll have to change soon. Thanks for the recipe!

    • Domenica February 24, 2012 at 10:23 am #

      Frank, I agree: Even the best Manhattan clam chowder can’t compare to New England clam chowder. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to make. Use cherrystones–they have lots of good liquor to flavor the chowder.

  3. Joe February 24, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    Domenica, I am a new reader and first time commenter. Saw you through Twitter and I’m glad I made the discovery.

    My family has a summer tradition of spending a few days on the beach in Cape Cod. One of my highlights is the clam chowder I can get in our favorite restaurants. Absolutely an essential comfort food.

    • Domenica February 24, 2012 at 10:12 am #

      Benvenuto, Joe. Thanks for stopping by. I agree–essential comfort food. And, it doesn’t get any better than chowder on Cape Cod, does it? Cheers, and thanks for reading.

  4. Sara{OneTribeGourmet} February 24, 2012 at 10:13 am #

    What a lovely post! I love chowder too..warms you up and leaves a comforting feeling! I am going to purchase your wonderful book! You are Amazing! I hope to meet you one day in DC! :) xx

    • Domenica February 24, 2012 at 10:31 am #

      Thank you for your kind words, Sara. And yes, it would be wonderful to meet!

  5. Marnely Rodriguez February 24, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    SO happy to read this recipe, and now craving chowder for breakfast! Looks gorgeous!

    • Domenica February 24, 2012 at 10:58 am #

      Lucky you, Marnely–you are at the epicenter of the chowder world! Thanks for reading.

  6. Sarah February 24, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

    This puts such a smile to my face…as a native New Englander, there are few foods that bring such nostalgia as that of clam chowder. And this looks like such a comforting and perfect version of it.

    • Domenica February 24, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

      And your comment made me smile, Sarah. Thanks for reading. I like this Cook’s Illustrated recipe in particular because the chowder is not thick and gloppy, like you find in a lot of mediocre restaurants. It’s just a little creamy and really tastes like clams.

  7. Elizabeth @Mango_Queen February 24, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    Oh my, this New England clam chowder is so warm and comforting, especially on this cold Feb. day. I just love clam chowder! Thanks for sharing, Domenica. Will try this one soon.

    • Domenica February 24, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

      My pleasure, Betty Ann. Always happy to pass along a good chowder recipe.

  8. Elisa February 24, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    Ma che delizia!!! I love New England clam chowder!! Grazie for the wonderful recipe!
    And yes, I could eat too for breakfast!

    • Domenica February 24, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

      Yes, chowder for breakfast, chased down with a piece of warm gingerbread…

  9. Coco February 24, 2012 at 8:52 pm #

    And for dessert, Moosehead Gingerbread, which Robin Mather has since renamed Wolverine Gingerbread (Go Blue!) and is on page 219 in her book “The Feast Nearby.”

    • Domenica February 24, 2012 at 10:11 pm #

      Love that book! (and I think Wolverine Gingerbread is a better name).

  10. nancy baggett February 25, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    After seeing that you used fresh clams, I suddenly feel I can’t resort to that CAN of them on the pantry shelf. But it is definitely soup and chowder weather, and you have made me want such a dish, so I’m going to come up with something using what I do have–a nice chicken carcass waiting in the refrigerator.

    Delighted to hear that you are on the mend. Hope to see you soon.

    • Domenica February 25, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

      Good call on the canned clams, Nancy! I’m sure you will turn that chicken into a worthy meal.

  11. Judy@Savoring Today February 26, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    Clam chowder is a family favorite, so satisfying on a cold day and a thick slice of dipping bread. I could curl up right now with that bowl and a book!

    • Domenica February 26, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

      Sounds like heaven to me, Judy. Thank you for reading, and for your comment.

  12. Tracy February 28, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    Oh—I missed your mishap. I hope you are mending well. Clam chowder sounds right for February. And the book, well, I hope I’m able to get a copy soon. It sounds like a charming read.

    • Domenica February 28, 2012 at 10:39 pm #

      Thank you, Tracy. And yes, it’s an adorable book. Cheers and thanks for stopping by.

  13. Jamie February 29, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    Beautiful chowder! I grew up in Florida, known for its seafood. Special nights out meant dad taking the whole family up to Peg Leg’s restaurant for seafood and I always always ordered the creamy flavorful clam chowder. I love it! And I have only made it once in my life. We often buy the tiny clams (coques they are called here) and steam them in white whine, parsley and garlic to eat either as is or over pasta. But your soup has me craving chowder and the recipe is calling my name!

    The book sounds simply wonderful! I love childrens books that are about food. I must find this one! Love the post!

    • Domenica February 29, 2012 at 4:53 pm #

      Thank you, my dear. I have had good conch chowder in the Florida Keys. I love those tiny clams you mention for steaming and for dressing pasta. The larger cherrystone clams are tougher, but they have a lot of flavor and a lot of liquor that is good for using in chowder chowder. There are even larger ones–geoducks–but I’ve never cooked those.

  14. ciaochowlinda March 6, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

    And what a delicious soup to submit to!

    • Domenica March 7, 2012 at 11:36 am #

      Thanks, Linda!

  15. Lee Strickler September 11, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    The best New England Clam Chowder I ever had came from a road side shack on Martha’s Vineyard, but Cape Cod comes in at a close second. I am definitely going to have to try this – if I can get fresh enough clams – the downside to living in the Rocky Mountains after growing up in Connecticut.

    • Domenica September 11, 2012 at 3:55 pm #

      Lee, thanks for writing. Eating chowder at a roadside shack on Martha’s Vineyard sounds pretty close to heaven. Wonder what you might substitute for clams in the Rocky Mountains?? I’m sorry to say I’ve never been, but I’ll be a bowl of chowder would be welcome in fall or winter…or even spring.

      • Lee Strickler September 12, 2012 at 8:55 am #

        I am looking into option for having some clams shipped directly. It definitely was like a slice of heaven – if you are ever there, give it a try. The chowder was so thick you could eat it with a fork; the clams were so sweet and tender. It truly was divine. I miss the ocean, but the mountains are spectacular if you ever visit you will understand. Thanks.

Leave a Comment

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: