As summer draws to its close this year, this FoodBeest remains on a seafood journey. This chowder was my ode to clams.
This Clam Chowder may well have been the best soup I have ever made, Fellow FoodBeest. Maybe even better than my (nearly) famous mushroom barley soup.
It was liquid white velvet – so smooth and creamy in the mouth that it was on the verge of being pornographic. Redolent with the smell and the brine of the ocean. Slightly sweet. Rich. This was the perfect match-up of strong, definable individual flavors while their combination transformed the soup, itself, into something totally new. It was possible to discern the almost metallic green celery, the sweet orange carrots, the creamy/mealy mouth-feel of the potatoes and the succulent, juicy clams, while savoring the entirely unique flavor of the soup itself.
I think soup is magic in general. But this one took soup to a new level.
I started with Ina Garten’s East Hampton Clam Chowder recipe, but Fellow FoodBeest, she uses a stick and a half of butter and I couldn’t bring myself to do that. You really don’t need it. Besides, where I come from chowder gets one layer of its flavor from some version of salt pork or bacon.
You must try this.
What You Need to Make The World’s Best Clam Chowder
3 oz chopped raw salt pork, pancetta or good bacon
At least a dozen fresh steamer clams in the shell
3 C whole fresh shucked or frozen chowder clams.
[These can be chopped, but I prefer them whole. You can get them from a fish monger. You can use whole canned clams in a pinch, but they won’t give the same flavor, the same succulence as fresh or frozen]
2 bottles clam juice.
2 C chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
2 C medium-diced celery (4 stalks)
2 C medium-diced carrots (6 carrots)
4 C peeled medium-diced boiling potatoes (8 potatoes)
[I used Yukon Golds]
1-1/2 t minced fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 t kosher salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
3 T butter
1/4 C all-purpose flour
1 C milk [I used 1 percent)
1 C half-and-half
How to Make the World’s Best Clam Chowder
Put the fresh clams-in-the-shells in a medium pot, with a couple of cups of water until their shells open, 5-10 minutes. Remove the steamed clams from their shells and put them with the other shucked clams you have. Throw out the shells. There will be grit from the sea at the bottom of the pot, but it’s not hard to pour out the rich, cloudy clam juice while leaving most of the grit in the pot. To be sure you get all the grit out, strain the clam liqueur (the broth from the steamed clams) through several layers of cheesecloth in a strainer. Set the strained liqueur aside.
Render the salt pork, pancetta or bacon over a low heat in a large heavy-bottomed stockpot. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon, leaving the rendered fat in the pot.
Add the onions to the rendered bacon or salt pork grease in the large stockpot and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until translucent.
Add the celery, carrots, potatoes, thyme, salt, and pepper and sauté for 10 more minutes.
Add the strained clam liqueur from the steamed clams and, supplement it with the bottled clam juice. Bring it to a boil over medium heat, and then lower the heat again, simmering uncovered, until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. No more.
In a small pot, melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Cook over very low heat for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Ladle one or two ladles full of the hot broth and whisk it into the butter and flour mixture until it is smooth. Pour this mixture back into the cooked vegetables. Simmer for a just few minutes until the broth is thickened.
Add the milk, the half-and-half, and the shucked clams and clams and heat gently for a few minutes to cook the clams. Taste and correct for salt and pepper. Serve hot as soon as possible.