Tuesday, March 16, 2010

New England Clam Chowder

The worst thing about commercial chowders is how glutinous they are. The second worst thing is the predominance of potatoes over clams. Fortunately, you can rectify both problems by making the chowder yourself. Any type of hard-shell clam will do, but I use the large ones, sold as “quahogs,” because they’re by far the cheapest. What’s most important is that the clams are fresh.

(serves eight)

8 lb fresh hard-shell clams (about 20 quahogs)
¼ lb pancetta (or bacon)
2 large onions
2 lb potatoes
2 Tbs unsalted butter
¼ c flour
1 tsp dried thyme
freshly ground black pepper
3 c milk
1 c heavy cream
fresh parsley

1. Scrub the clams well to remove all the sand and grit from their shells. Place in a large stockpot. Add two cups cold water. Cover and cook over medium heat until the clams open, about 20-25 minutes. Remove the clams as they open. Allow clams and broth to cool.

2. Remove the clams from their shells and chop coarsely. Strain the broth through a coffee filter or cheesecloth to remove any sand or grit. (You should have 4-5 cups of broth. If not add cold water to make 4 cups.) Clean the stockpot.

3. Dice the pancetta and sauté in the stockpot over medium-low heat until the fat renders, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the onions and dice the potatoes.

4. Add the butter and onions to the pancetta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften, about 10-12 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring often, another 3 minutes.

5. Add the reserved clam broth, potatoes, thyme, and black pepper to taste. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the soup to a simmer. Adjust the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the reserved clams and continue simmering, stirring occasionally, another 7 minutes. (Do not overcook the clams or they will become tough.)

6. Reduce the heat to low. Add the milk and cream. Stirring often, heat the milk and cream but do not bring the soup to a boil. When the soup is suitably hot, add freshly chopped parsley and serve.

• This soup is easily made in advance, and it tastes even better reheated the next day. You can also make it in stages. The clams can be steamed and refrigerated separately from the broth. Just let the broth warm to room temperature before adding it to the stockpot.

• I recommend pancetta over bacon for this soups, because I think the strong flavor of bacon tends to obscure the more delicate flavor of the clams.

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