Two things that tourists from all over the world seek out when they visit New England are New England clam chowder and lobster rolls. It doesn’t matter if they visit in the middle of summer or during the winter ski season…their trip will not be complete unless they get a chance to try both famous food traditions. There are many delicious versions of clam chowder throughout New England…each state seems to have a different variation. Ask any person living in New England about their own well guarded recipe and they will usually be hesitant about letting you know exactly how they prepare their chowder.
If you go to a restaurant in New England, you can usually order clam chowder one of two ways…thick or thin. Whether it is served in a cup, a bowl or sometimes in a bread bowl, it is always white and never, ever will it be tomato based as in other parts of the country. Little oyster crackers are traditionally served alongside to be used as a topping.
You may be looking at the photograph and thinking that my chowder doesn’t look like what you have seen before. That is because I made mine with a twist. I used three kinds of potatoes…little red bliss, golden and purple ones. It might be considered scandalous to mess with tradition in this way but I wanted to add some color to this basically white chowder. Of course, you can follow tradition and prepare a totally white chowder or you can be adventurous and add a little color to your life by adding a variety of potatoes to this classic recipe…just don’t tell a New Englander that you are messing with tradition.
New England Clam Chowder
- 2 slices of thick bacon, diced (I use applewood smoked bacon)
- 1 c. of chopped onion
- 1 stalk of celery, diced
- 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 Tbsp. flour (I use Wondra, an instant flour that is quick dissolving)
- 2 c. of clam broth
- 2 bay leaves
- a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1 tsp. pepper (I use white)
- peeled and diced potatoes (I used about 1 1/2 cups)
- 10 oz. chopped clams (I used about 1 1/2 cups of frozen clams), canned is fine
- 3/4 c. heavy cream (for a thick chowder), half and half or milk (for a thin chowder)
Place diced bacon in a large pot and cook until the fat is rendered and bacon is starting to brown. Add the onion and celery and cook until they turn translucent. Then add the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Sprinkle in the flour, stir well and cook for about a minute more. Slowly pour in the clam broth, stir and let cook for several minutes. Add the diced potatoes**, bay leaves, thyme and enough water to completely cover the potatoes. Cook for about 10 or 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Add in the chopped clams and the cream. Cook until the clams are heated through and tender. Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs and taste for additional seasonings.* Ladle the hot and creamy soup into bowls and serve with oyster crackers on the side.
*I have not added salt in this recipe as canned broths and canned clams, if using, have salt in them…some being very salty. I would rather add salt at the end of the cooking time if it is needed.
**I cooked the purple potatoes separately and added them to the chowder right before serving. I didn’t want the chowder to possibly turn blue. That would be a little too untraditional.
This is a thick and creamy chowder that can be served as a first course, along with a sandwich, a warm and hearty meal on a cold day, or part of a traditional New England clam bake in the middle of summer. No matter if you are making a couple of cups or a huge pot for a crowd, try to have the ratio of clams and potatoes about the same. Just remember that New England clam chowder never has tomatoes in it…you don’t want to mess with tradition too much.