February 27, 2013

New England Clam Chowder with Bacon

clams + bacon

It’s February and, baby, it’s cold outside. The whole country pretty much experienced the chilling cold front that swept across the nation last week. It even snowed in Arizona! Not enough to count, of course – there was a snowflake here and there – but you’d never know the difference from the way the traffic backed up that day. Seriously, Arizona has some of the worst drivers EVER. But I’m getting off topic… Where were we? Oh, yeah. It’s cold. And what do I want when it’s cold? Soup, chowder, bisque, broth, stew, bouillabaisse – whatever variety you choose, there are few things in this world that are more comforting on a chilly afternoon than a warming bowl of soup.

I never really ate clam chowder before meeting Jon, but it always interested me. It seemed fancy and sophisticated, I guess. Sadly though, I’ve always been slightly finicky when it comes to seafood – something I’m working on. Jon has helped to expand my boundaries tremendously, however, and clams are something that I quite enjoy now.

manila clams

Up until recently, I wasn’t so sure if I had graduated to the level of cooking clams in house yet. Enjoying them prepared by a chef, bathed in butter and white wine, well, naturally that’s an easy dish to swallow. But cooking clams in my own kitchen seemed like a daunting task. Would I have to pry each one open, fighting to dig out the little morsels that lay trapped inside? Would I clean them well enough or be left with a sandy, briny and unappetizing dish? My fears were laid to rest, however, when I ran across this recipe for Clam Chowder. I was comforted by one simple ingredient. Bacon. Yes, glorious bacon.

steamed clams

I was no longer afraid. I was ready to take on the challenge. I felt prepared to face off against those clams, confident that I would win, claiming each mollusk for my own. But it came as quite a surprise when I learned that cooking clams simply involved dumping them into a pot of water and steaming them for 8-10 minutes. Really. That was it. Ok, so maybe I over prepared somewhat, but I refused to feel defeated. I plucked the meat from their shells, added them to the simmering cream that was already abundant with bacon, and the whole chowder came together in just over an hour. So maybe clams aren’t as formidable of an opponent as I once feared, but I still came out feeling like a winner. It was too delicious not to. The proof was in the pudding, err, I mean chowder.

new england clam chowder

New England Clam Chowder with Bacon
Recipe Adapted from Bon Appètit, November 2012

This clam chowder is rich and filling, thanks to the generous amount of bacon. Ladle into bread bowls for a heartier meal or serve sliced sourdough and oyster crackers alongside it for lighter fare. Make sure to complete the meal by pairing with a good pale ale.

5 lbs manila clams (or cockles), scrubbed clean
4 tbsp butter, divided
7 oz thick cut bacon (the really good kind), chopped into ½-inch pieces
2 celery stalks, minced
½ large onion, finely chopped (I used a little over ½)
1 garlic clove minced
1 ¾ lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 tbsp scant, chopped fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp sherry cooking wine
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 ¼ cup heavy cream
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp chopped parsley
chopped fresh chives
oyster crackers or sliced sourdough bread

1. Place clams in a stockpot with 2 ½ cups of water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until the clams just open. Throw away any clams that do not open. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the clams to a baking sheet and set broth aside. Once the clams are cool enough to handle, pluck the meat from their shells, and roughly chop into bite size pieces; set aside.

2. Pour the broth through a fine mesh sieve (or cheese cloth) set over a large bowl, enough to measure 3 ¾ cups (add water if needed).

3. Melt 2 tbsp of butter in a large heavy pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until brown and crispy, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a plate set with paper towels. Drain the bacon fat from the pot until about 1 tbsp remains. Add the remaining two tbsp of butter, and once melted, add the celery, onion and garlic. Stirring often, cook the vegetables until they begin to caramelize, about 10 minutes.
4. Add the reserved clam broth, chopped potatoes, thyme, bay leaf, sherry and bacon (you can choose to add this at the end, as more of a garnish, if you like). Bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20-25 minutes. Combine cornstarch and 2 tbsp of water in a small bowl and stir to make a slurry. Add to the chowder base and bring back up to a boil to thicken.

5. Turn the heat down to low; locate and discard the bay leaf. Stir in the clams, heavy cream and chopped parsley. Season with salt (if needed) and freshly ground black pepper. Let cook for 10 minutes longer, to bring the cream and clams up to temperature, while stirring often. Serve with sliced sourdough bread, oyster crackers and chopped fresh chives. Savor and enjoy!

* Jon had the idea of adding jalapeno to this chowder. We didn’t try it (as the idea came after the fact), but I can’t help but think this would taste simply delicious. It would compliment the bacon so well… If you’re feeling brave, try adding a finely chopped jalapeno along with the celery and onion sauté. Let me know how it turns out!

Makes 4-6 servings, depending on portion size


  1. Funny you should think about adding jalapeno because that's what I do with my recipe. I love a good kick! I saw this recipe in Bon Appetite long before you were walking and at that time ham was the additive for more flavor...bacon is simply better!

    1. Lisa, I'm so glad that you agree with me... Bacon is always better :-)

  2. EDIT: "I plucked the meat from their shells" to "Jon plucked the meat from their shells".

  3. Anonymous4/13/2013

    about how much do the clams cost?

    1. Sorry for the late reply! I've had issues with my comments getting stuck in moderation mode. Something I need to get in the habit of checking! I bought the clams at Costco and got a great deal. I think I paid no more than $15 for the whole lot. Canned clams are cheaper and can be used in a pinch. Hope this helps!