I’ve been wanting to make New England Clam chowder for years. But today was the day that it actually happened. Prompted by a desire to ignore the crappy weather and an urge to unleash some creativity in the kitchen, we secured 4 dozen clams, some thick cut bacon, celery and thyme. And along with some other staples we already had on hand, there began our clam chowder adventure.
I chopped a very large onion, three stalks of celery and some Yukon golds. Meanwhile, I steamed the 4 dozen fresh little necks until they opened wide, discarding a few that were broken or didn’t open. I let the clams cool, reserving the clam juice after draining it through a coffee filter. My loyal hubby shelled the clams and coarsely chopped them, while I chopped up some bacon into lardons and dumped them into a pot. I cooked the lardons until they were crispy and the smell of bacon filled the air. The onions and celery went next into the pot, and then the potatoes. And eventually the reserved claim juice, milk, cream, thyme and bay leaf got dumped into the mix. The chowder was brought to a boil and left to simmer for 15 minutes. Last but not least, the chopped clams went in along with a couple dashes of Louisiana hot sauce and some added salt and pepper to taste. We ladled the chowder into bowls and topped it with some fresh chopped chives and served it with fresh made bread on the side for dipping. We ate until our tummies were full.
As I dined on my chowder and sipped a nice Chardonnay, I reflected on the fact that we have recently entered phase 1 of reopening in Connecticut. I am nervous, yet cautiously optimistic. Retail is back with masks. You can dine at restaurants again, provided you sit outside and socially distance from other tables. But we still can’t invite another family over to enjoy a Memorial Day BBQ. Instead we sit outside with our BYOB chairs and bottle of wine with ample social distance between us and our neighbors and drink and shout across the yard. That was how we started our Memorial Day weekend. And it was fun. The one thing I will say about coronavirus is that it challenges you to think creatively about how you can have fun. It gives you an opportunity to do those things you always wanted to do, but never had the time. And for me, that was making this New England clam chowder on this rainy Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, 2020. And boy was it divine.
- 4 dozen little neck or cherry stone clams, scrubbed
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 4 thick slices bacon, cut into lardons
- 1 large onion, cut into 1/4 inch dice
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- Sea Salt
- 1 1/2 lb Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1/2 dice
- 3 tbsp flour
- 1 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 bundle of thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 2-3 shakes of Louisiana hot sauce
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Chopped chives
- Place the clams and 1 cup of water in a large pot. Cover and place over a high heat and cook the clams for 6 to 7 minutes. Uncover and remove the open clams.Cover the pot again and continue cooking the clams that haven’t opened yet. Cook the clams for another 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and discard any clams that have not opened. Strain the liquid from the pot through a mesh strainer lined with a coffee filter and reserve.
- Coarsely chop the clams and reserve.
- Drizzle a few drops of olive oil into the bottom of the clam pot and toss in the bacon. Bring the pan to a medium heat. When the bacon has let off a lot of fat and become brown and crispy, toss in the celery and onions and season lightly with salt. Cook the onions until they are very soft and aromatic but have no color, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Sprinkle the flour over the onions and potato mixture and stir to combine. Gradually whisk in the reserved clam juice. When the clam juice has been whisked in and there are no lumps, whisk in the milk and heavy cream and toss in the bay leaves and thyme. Taste for seasoning (adding salt and pepper as necessary) and adjust if needed. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer and simmer until the potatoes are cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Toss in the reserved clams. Taste and re-season with salt and pepper if needed and add hot sauce if using. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle chopped chives on top.