Creamy New England clam chowder is loaded with clams, bacon, potatoes and leeks.
Ever since I was a kid, my family has vacationed on Martha’s Vineyard. One year, many, many years ago, my family met a family of fishermen (and women) who lived on the Island. In the beginning, they’d sell us fresh clams before they took the rest of their haul to local markets. As years passed, they started taking my Dad clamming with them. Now Dad’s got all the gear and heads out into Vineyard waters on his own to get clams and sometimes oysters. Whenever we are on Island, there’s sure to be a big bucket of fresh clams in the fridge. And oftentimes. a dozen make their way to my house in NJ when Mom and Dad come home.
And let me tell you, there’s nothing better than those fresh clams. We usually steam them with just a bit of butter, but over the years, we’ve found plenty of other ways to cook them: tossed with pasta, on the half-shell, Casino, the list goes on. But this clam chowder is hands down my favorite. This post is courtesy of mom who brought me a big bowl after their last trip. (More please, mom, if you’re reading this!)
I swear by New England clam chowder (not those other varieties like Manhattan!). Rich and creamy and loaded with potatoes. Bacon and leeks lend lots of flavor to this recipe. Mom used littlenecks (small clams) in this one, but you could substitute and equal weight of quahogs (the big ones). Just chop them into bite-sized pieces. This one is hearty enough to be a meal on its own, or pair it with a nice fresh lobster roll for my all-time favorite meal.
- 2 dozen littleneck clams, rinsed
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 slices smoky bacon, coarsely chopped
- 2 leeks, white and pale green parts only, cleaned and sliced
- 4 large red potatoes, cubed
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups cream or half and half
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives
- Put the clams in a large, heavy pot, with 4 cups of water, then set over medium-high heat. Cover, and cook until clams have opened, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. (Clams that fail to open after 15 to 20 minutes should be discarded.) Strain clam broth through a strainer lined with cheesecloth, and set aside. Remove clams from shells and cut in half. Set aside.
- Rinse the pot and return it to the stove over medium heat. Add the butter and bacon and cook until fat has rendered and bacon is brown. Remove bacon from pot with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Add the leeks to the pot and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Do not brown.
- Stir in the potatoes and wine and cook for about 5 minutes, until most of the wine has evaporated.
- Add enough clam broth to cover the potatoes (about 3 cups). Add the bay leaves and thyme.
- Simmer gently until potatoes are cooked thru, about 10-15 minutes.
- Stir in the cream, clams and bacon and return to a simmer.
- Remove from heat and discard the thyme and bay leaves.
- Let the chowder sit for a while so the flavors can develop. When ready to serve, reheat gently. Top with fresh chopped chives.