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New England Clam Chowder
By Charlie Burke

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Clam chowder is a New England tradition which, although there are many
variations, always includes milk or cream, onions, potatoes and either salt pork
or bacon. Although some make their chowder with soft shelled clams, called
“steamers”, in northern New England most use larger clams, such as quahogs
(“ko-hogs”) or cherry stones, which are chopped.

Little neck clams also make fine chowder, and, like the larger quahogs and
cherry stones, if they are steamed open in a couple of cups of water, the strained
cooking liquid can be used in the chowder. Most good fish stores have chopped
clams in their liquid, often sold in one pound containers, and I must admit I
most frequently use these for clam chowder since moving to central New
Hampshire.

Most traditional recipes use heavy cream and butter, resulting in rich and
delicious chowders, but fine chowders are also made with milk which is
sometimes thickened with a small amount of flour to reach the thickness of
those made with cream. Authentic New England chowders are never thick,
however, with most relying on the starch from the potatoes to slightly thicken
the broth and milk or cream. The thick, pasty chowders served in many
restaurants are full of flour which masks the flavor of the clams, and would
never be served at a church supper in Maine or by any self respecting Yankee
cook.

I have been making more healthy chowders of late, using regular or low fat milk
and sometimes non fat half and half. This yields chowder with thin liquid, but I
have found that the taste of the clam broth and the clams is more intense.

Feel free to use half and half or heavy cream in your preparation, and use this
recipe as a guide as you develop your own preferred recipe. The steps are the
same in all preparations: salt pork or bacon is browned, onion is added and
cooked until soft, and clam broth is added, along with the potatoes, which are
cooked until softened.  When the potatoes are done, milk or cream is added,
along with the chopped clams. The chowder is simmered until the clams are
cooked, seasoning is corrected, and the chowder is ready to be served.

6-8 small or 4 generous large servings:

Quahogs, cherrystone or littleneck clams sufficient to provide 2 pounds of
chopped clams (5-8 pounds clams in the shell provide 1 pound of meat –
consult your fish monger) or 2 pounds chopped clams with liquid.

1 ½ pound Yukon Gold or similar potato, peeled and cut into ½ inch dice

1 large or 2 medium yellow onions, chopped

4 ounces salt pork or smoke house bacon, trimmed of excess fat and diced

1 generous tablespoon of flour if cream is omitted

Clam liquid from packaged chopped clams, broth from cooked clams or bottled
clam juice, plus water to total 3 cups

1 cup milk or low fat milk (or use 2 cups milk, omitting cream below)

1 cup low fat half and half, half and half or heavy cream

Kosher or sea salt to taste

2 tablespoons chopped parsley, thyme or chives for garnish (optional)

If using whole clams, cook clams in a large sauté pan in 1 ½ cups water over
high heat until clams open. Strain and reserve cooking liquid, remove clams
from shell and coarsely chop. If using packaged shelled clams, strain clams,
reserving liquid.

Heat a heavy pot over medium heat and add bacon or salt pork. Cook, stirring
until lightly browned. Add onion and cook, stirring until soft and translucent.
Add reserved clam liquid or bottled clam juice and water to total 3 cups and
increase heat to high. Add chopped potatoes and cook until potatoes are just
soft – they will break slightly and thicken the broth. Mash a few against the side
of the pot and stir to further thicken the broth.

Add milk and low fat half and half or cream and chopped clams, lower heat and
simmer until clams are cooked (4-8 minutes, depending upon the size of the
chopped clams). Add salt and pepper to taste.

The chowder can be served immediately, but most feel that that the flavor
improves with sitting for 30-45 minutes off heat. Reheat over low heat before
serving; chowder should not boil after milk and cream are added. Serve in
shallow bowls, garnished with herbs, if using. Traditionally, Westminster
crackers or other “oyster crackers”, either toasted or plain, accompany the
chowder.

The chowder can also be cooled, covered and refrigerated overnight. Reheat
over low heat and do not let it boil.

Using this basic recipe, you will be able to choose your favorite preparation. I
often use only whole milk, stirring in 1 tablespoon of flour when the onions are
cooked to slightly thicken the milk. This thin chowder lets the briny taste of the
clams predominate, complimented by New Hampshire smoke house bacon
which I prefer to salt pork.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm
to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along
with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather
Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
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New England Clam Chowder
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