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New England Clam Chowder

February 4, 2011

Soup lovers everywhere, today is your day: it’s National Homemade Soup Day. (If you’re not in the United States, and your country doesn’t have these crazy pseudo-holidays, that’s okay: we hope you’ll forgive our whacky ways and celebrate with us anyway.)

When SoupAddict was but a wee one, she would earnestly ask Mother of SoupAddict questions like, “If there’s a Mother’s Day, and a Father’s Day, when’s Kid’s Day???” while bouncing up and down in her chair, stoked at the thought of getting presents more often than December (the month of both Christmas and Soupie-in-training’s birthday). Mother of SoupAddict would cast a tired, sidelong glance at bouncing Soupie and mutter, “Every day is Kid’s Day.”

Which Soupie found very hard to believe because any day that involved memorizing multiplication tables … which seems like all of the days when you’re seven … doesn’t hold a lot of promise for a fun Kid’s Day.

Now, National Homemade Soup Day is another story. There could be a federally mandated soup-making requirement every day, and SoupAddict would be happy as a clam.

That’s right … as a clam.

(How’bout that for a segue to a post about clam chowder?)

Clam chowder is made with … clam juice! And starchy potatoes that give the soup nice body and a simple earthiness that goes so well with the flavors of the sea.

You’ll start with 24 oz of clam juice, which seems like it won’t make much soup at all. However, canned clams contain a lot of juice, which you’ll use to bring the liquid level up to about a quart. By the time you add the cream and the solid ingredients, you’ll have plenty of soup for four hungry people. If you’re using fresh clams, you’ll need to use additional water or clam juice to produce 32 oz of liquid.

SoupAddict wanted to do a little experimentation with clams, as in the past she’s used only chopped claims. Here we have three kinds: whole (left), chopped (center) and baby whole clams.

Verdict: whole clams were too much, and the sometimes chewy texture was a little off-putting. I think a mixture of a baby clams and chopped clams is just about right. A baby clam is the right size to bite into, while the chopped clams provide a lot of flavor and body to the soup. If you don’t think you’ll like chunks o’ baby clams, just use all chopped.

Hello, aromatics. I do love you so.
And then there’s the bacon. SoupAddict da bacon. Especially this bacon — applewood smoked bacon — which she got from Fresh Market.
The aroma of this bacon cooking in butter nearly drove her to do crazy things, like scooping the bacon out of the pot and eating right then and there.
Aromatic veggies + bacon = a whole world of soup goodness goin’ on here.
I like my clam chowder very smooth and creamy, with just some potato chunks. So, add the potatoes that cooked in the clam juice to the soup, and give the whole thing a whir with the immersion blender. Now add your clams and the remaining ingredients to this hearty base, and you’ve got yourself some soup!
Savory and delicious. Do up the hot sauce if you like a spicy kick — it adds a really wonderful contrast to the soup.

A very kind reader recommends Dunk’s Sweet Thang hot sauce from Alabama (thanks, Phyllis!). My local Kroger prides itself on carrying small company condiments (seriously — there’s an entire shelving unit devoted to nothing but hot pepper sauce), so I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to find it. I’m intrigued that it’s made with hot banana peppers, instead of the cayenne-base I’m used to (and not so much fond of). I do love banana peppers, though, sweet or hot.

New England Clam Chowder

3 8-ounce bottles clam juice
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
3 slices bacon, finely chopped
2 cups onions, chopped
1 cups celery, plus some leaves, chopped (about 2 stalks)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 small carrots, chopped or cubed
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, stem discarded
1 bay leaf
1/4 – 1/3 cup all purpose flour
5 each 6 1/2-ounce cans chopped and/or baby clams, drained, juices reserved
1 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper, to taste

Bring bottled clam juice and potatoes to boil in heavy large saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until potatoes are fork tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Heat butter and oil in heavy large stock pot over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until it begins to brown, about 8 minutes or so. Add onions, celery, garlic, carrots, thyme and bay leaf and sauté until vegetables soften, about 6 minutes. Stir in flour and cook 2 minutes to remove the raw flour flavor. (Note: I always find that 1/4 cup of flour is not enough, but 1/3 cup is too much. Usually, a heaping 1/4 cup is just about right).

Gradually add reserved juices from clams, whisking thoroughly. Allow to heat for a few minutes to thicken. Add some (or all of the) potatoes from the potato/clam mixture. Use an immersion blender to smooth out the chunks of vegetables. (It doesn’t need to be completely velvety – simply blend to your preferred texture. I like to leave small lumps of onions, celery and carrots visible.)

Add the rest of the potato mixture (including liquid), clams, half-and-half or cream, fish sauce*, Worcestershire sauce and hot pepper sauce. Simmer chowder 5-10 minutes to blend flavors, stirring frequently (do not allow to boil or the cream will curdle). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

(Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated. Bring to simmer before serving.)

*So, what’s with the fish sauce? Isn’t the clam juice enough? Yes and no. Clam juice is a fairly mild by-product, compared to other sea creatives (think, sardines). Folks mix it with tomato juice and drink it right down. It’s not my cup o’ tea, but, there’s even a brand of juice drink you can buy at the grocery store called Clamato. Fish sauce, however, is much stronger than clam juice. I personally avoid even sniffing the bottle of fish sauce; however, when added to food while cooking, it imparts an incredible umami that you just can’t get from anything else. SoupAddict recommends fish sauce.

  1. Phyllis Ryan permalink
    February 4, 2011 1:17 pm

    I feel bad that I am not a fan of clam chowder, but I am a great lover of soup. If your Kroger can’t find “Sweet Thang try He ships. By the way I love your blog.

    • SoupAddict permalink
      February 4, 2011 1:38 pm

      Aw, thanks, Phyllis! I didn’t like clam chowder for years, but I think it was due to a vague I-got-the-flu/I-ate-clam-chowder-last-night thing, that put me off of it. And anyway, I’ve had issues with seafood for years. The first time I prepared lobster, there were all sorts of disaster scenarios going through my mind. So I’m hardly one to point the finger in the “not diggin’ it” department!

  2. February 4, 2011 2:40 pm

    This sounds absolutely wonderful. I’d love to find a good quality clam juice though. Some of the brands taste like all salt.

  3. February 4, 2011 3:23 pm

    I always stop at this fresh seafood place in Tillamook, OR where they have the very sweetest canned clams and juice and pick up several cans when I’m there. I usually make chowder with them and usually use them all up in a few months. I’ll be sure to try this one next time..yum…

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