What constitutes a true New England clam chowder is a matter of much debate. While some argue that chowder needs to be thick and creamy, others call for cream to be served alongside the clear broth and added to your liking. We’ve taken the middle ground with this recipe and created a chowder with just enough creaminess to coat the back of a spoon.
Game plan: While preparing the vegetables for the soup, make sure to save all the peelings and scraps (except the potato skins) to steam with the clams.
2 1/2 pounds small hard-shell clams, such as Manila
1 medium yellow onion, small dice, peel and scraps reserved
1 medium celery stalk, small dice, peel and scraps reserved
1 medium carrot, small dice, peel and scraps reserved
1 1/2 cups water
3 ounces smoked bacon, small dice (about 1/2 cup)
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 medium red potatoes, medium dice, reserved in cold water
1 cup bottled clam juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 medium bay leaf
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, minced
Rinse clams under running water, discarding any that are open or have broken shells. Combine peels and scraps of onion, celery, and carrot with clams in a Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed pot with a tightfitting lid. Add 1/2 cup of the water, cover the pot, and cook over high heat until most of the clams have opened, about 10 minutes.
Drain clams in a cheesecloth-lined mesh strainer set over a large bowl, reserving the liquid. When the clams are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the shells and reserve it, discarding any clams that did not fully open. Discard the clam shells and vegetable peels and coarsely chop the clam meat (you should have about 1 cup). Measure the reserved clam cooking liquid; you should have about 2 cups. If you have less, add enough water to equal 2 cups. Set aside.
Rinse out the Dutch oven or large pot, dry it, and return it to the stove over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until the fat is rendered and the bacon is beginning to crisp, about 6 minutes. Add diced onion, celery, and carrot and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender and translucent, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook until just soft, about 2 minutes more.
Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until flour is no longer raw tasting, about 2 minutes.
Stir in wine and cook until mixture begins to thicken, about 1 minute. Drain reserved potatoes and add to mixture. Add reserved clam cooking liquid, bottled clam juice, thyme, bay leaf, chopped clam meat, and remaining 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes.
Stir in cream and parsley, adding additional salt and pepper as desired, and serve.
Beverage pairing: A creamy soup demands a wine of substance, while clams cry out for minerality and bacon wants to meet with a little smoke. Only one wine can fulfill all of these requirements: Chardonnay from the French region of Chablis. Try the 2005 Chablis from Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard.