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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Weekend Cooking: New England Clam Chowder

Weekend Cooking

It is that time of year now when soups are the thing to make, and nothing screams Massachusetts in the fall/winter like New England Clam Chowder.  It seems everyone around here knows this as when I was at the seafood counter buying my clams, the man asked “are you making a chowda?” – yes, we are somewhat near Boston! 

I have made many versions of New England Clam Chowder (and as yet to try my hand at the Rhode Island or Manhattan varieties), but this one comes from a new cookbook I picked up a month or so ago.  It is from Mystic Seaport, the New England museum of the sea and maritime exploits.  The book is called Mystic Seafood, and it is chock full of great sounding recipes and lots of history of the area, photographs, and fishing, etc.

So here are a couple historical tidbits about clams:

  • Did you know it took until around the 1800’s for clams to become a popular food in New England? This was because they were perceived as food only for the Native Peoples and the colonists would only eat them if there was nothing else!
  • The quintessential New England summertime activity of a clam-bake was given a history of being a peaceful gathering that occurred between Natives and colonists.  This is purely romanticism – see previous bullet point. 

mystic seafood

New England Clam Chower
Makes 5 servings, 1 cup each

2 pounds cherrystone or littleneck clams
2 cups water
2 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 cup yellow onion, chopped
2 cups potato diced into ½ inch cubes
1 12-oz can evaporated skim milk
1 cup half-and-half or light cream
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1) Rinse the clams thoroughly to remove dirt/grit.  Bring water to a boil and add the clams.  Steam until they open, approximately 7-9 minutes.  Drain the clams into a bowl through a strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter.  Reserve the broth.  When clams are cooled, remove from shells and chop coarsely.

2) In a large pot, cook the bacon over medium until the fat is rendered and bacon is crisp.  Remove from pot and drain on paper towels.  Crumble, chop, and drain pot.

3) Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in the pot and add onion.  Sauté until soft, about 3 minutes.  Add potatoes and stir to coat.  Cook for another 2 minutes.

4) Add 1 ½ cups of the reserved broth and simmer until potatoes are soft, 10-12 minutes.  Add the clams and bacon and simmer another 3 minutes.

5) Add the evaporated milk and half-and-half or light cream.  Add the salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce and stir to combine.  Heat thoroughly, but do not boil.  Float the remaining 1 tablespoon button on top.  Serve hot.

FYI – I forgot to photograph my soup.  This photo, from Food Network, most closely resembles my soup.

This wasn’t necessarily my favorite version of this soup.  It wasn’t as creamy as I am used to.  The broth had the consistency of a Rhode Island chowder, except made with milk.  I think if I make this version again I would want to try to thicken the broth using a roux of flour and butter. 

The cookbook notes that condensed milk was most commonly used in older chowder recipes because fresh milk wasn’t frequently available.  That could also be the different with this recipe than from others I have made.  I have never made it with a condensed milk before – always with cream and milk. 

It was by no means a bad soup, it just wasn’t my favorite version.  It was chock full of potatoes and clams though and did have a nice flavor.  My fiancé wasn’t a fan of the fact you use whole clams, he has an aversion to clam bellies, and there were a couple pieces that I did pick out that looked gross.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Any post remotely related to cooking can participate.


Copyright © 2013 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. I love clam chowder and this recipe sounds like a winner.

  2. I love clam chowder and have no problem eating whole clams, but I think I like them chopped in my soup. I might like a creamy soup.

    1. I don't have problems with whole clams either. These are chopped but my fiancé wanted to just use the necks. He has this thing about whole belly clams.

  3. I adore clam chowder and yet have never made it from scratch. Maybe because I'm in landlocked Iowa! I love a creamier version as well.


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