One of America’s most famous dishes, get ready to enjoy a bowl of pure comfort!
The concept of chowder goes back several centuries. Chowders were introduced to the United States during its early years of settlement and the oldest published recipe we know about, for fish chowder, was printed in 1751. What we call New England Clam Chowder today was the earliest and most popular variety of clam chowder (known as Boston Clam Chowder in the Midwest) and it was a contribution of French and British settlers. By the 18th century it was a household staple and has remained one of New England’s most famous and beloved dishes.
Today, New England Clam Chowder is still served at Ye Olde Union Oyster House in Boston, the nation’s oldest continuously operating restaurant, where it has been on the menu since 1836.
Variations of New England clam chowder exist throughout the region and, depending on where you are, the consistency can be thin or thick. Additionally, although it is generally regarded a cardinal sin to add tomatoes, there are some who insist on adding just enough to turn the color a pretty pink. In 1939, the state legislature of Maine decided it had had enough of this sacrilege and tried passing a bill that would make the inclusion of tomatoes in clam chowder illegal. It didn’t pass.
Notwithstanding some debated variations, what distinguishes New England clam chowder is the absence of tomatoes and the inclusion of milk or cream, potatoes, onion and clams, and its common accompaniment of oyster crackers that are either crushed and added to the soup as a thickener or sprinkled on top.
In the words of American novelist Joseph C. Lincoln:
A New England clam chowder, made as it should be, is a dish to preach about, to chant praises and sing hymns and burn incense before. To fight for. The Battle of Bunker Hill was fought for–or on–clam chowder; part of it at least, I am sure it was. It is as American as the Stars and Stripes, as patriotic as the national Anthem. It is ‘Yankee Doodle in a kettle.’
An excellent New England Clam Chowder uses few and simple ingredients but the quality of these ingredients is key. Use the freshest produce, the best cream. Salt pork was traditionally used but in more recent decades it has been replaced by bacon. The smokiness of bacon can tend to overpower the delicate flavors of the clam chowder and for that reason I recommend Italian pancetta. Unlike bacon pancetta it is dry-cured, not smoked, and contributes an incredible, complex flavor that is complementary instead of overpowering.
Using quality ingredients also means using the finest fish broth, something that was used in many of the earliest known clam chowder recipes. Set the clam juice aside and instead reach for fish broth which will give your chowder a much richer and satisfying flavor.
For the finest fish stock I’m using my favorite brand, Aneto. They not only make the world’s BEST paella cooking bases (check out their Valencian paella and seafood paella cooking bases), they also make the best broths in my opinion. Based in Barcelona, Spain, Aneto’s premium broths are made the same way you would make them in your own kitchen: The freshest seafood and vegetables are added to large pots and slow simmered for hours before the broth poured into cartons for selling. The ingredients include Monkfish, Cod, Tomato, Onion, Carrot, Fennel, Leek, Celery, Virgin Olive Oil, Garlic and Sea Salt. Nothing else. No concentrates, powders, artificial ingredients, GMO’s, fillers or flavor enhancers of any kind. Just pure, whole, real ingredients. We highly recommend it.
I also love to use Aneto’s fish broth in a variety of pho and Asian soups and also for making a quick and easy seafood bouillabaisse!
Aneto’s 100% Natural Premium Fish Broth can be purchased here on Amazon or in select stores across the nation. Note, the broths are significantly cheaper on Amazon if you buy them in bulk (6-pack). Individually they’re cheaper in stores (check the store locator for your nearest location).
We had the opportunity to tour their factory from top to bottom, watch the broth-making process from start to finish, and were absolutely blown away by the beauty and simplicity of how they create their broths. In the world of broth manufacturers, Aneto is truly unique and their broth-making process is one of the most encouraging and inspiring things I’ve witnessed. Come read about it and take our virtual tour of the world’s most remarkable broth manufacturer.
If you’re a fan of New England Clam Chowder then you know from experience that too often they’re either ultra thick and gloppy or the binding between the fat and carbs has broken and you end up with a watery soup with oil droplets all over in it.
Not so with this recipe. This New England Clam Chowder tackles those problems and the result is a perfectly silky-smooth and creamy texture with wonderfully balanced flavors that will make you sigh with comfort.
Let’s get started!
Slice the pancetta (or bacon if using) into thin strips. Fry in a medium stock pot until crispy then remove with a slotted spoon, leaving about a tablespoon of the grease in the pot.
Add the butter to the pot along with the onions, celery and garlic. Cook for 6-8 minutes until softened but not browned. Add the flour, stir to combine and cook for a minute.
Add the broth and white wine, stirring to prevent the flour from clumping, and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Add the potatoes, thyme, bay leaves, salt, pepper and half of the pancetta.
Simmer the chowder for 20-25 minutes until the potatoes are extremely tender. Discard the bay leaves.
The consistency is right when the potatoes are so soft that some have begun to fall apart. If you prefer the chowder to be thicker or less chunky, use an immersion blender (or transfer 1 cup of the chowder to a blender) puree just a small portion of it.
Add the clams, cream and parsley and heat through for another 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.
Serve sprinkled with the remaining pancetta, fresh parsley and oyster crackers.
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Perfectly silky-smooth and creamy with deliciously balanced flavors, get ready to enjoy a hot bowl of pure comfort!
- 1/4 pound pancetta, cut into thin strips (highly recommended but if you can't find pancetta use bacon)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
- 2 ribs celery, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 34 ounce carton (4 cups) Aneto 100% All-Natural Fish Broth
- 1/4 cup dry white wine (e.g., sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, chardonnay)
- 5 cups starchy potatoes (e.g. russets), peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 30 quahogs, e.g. cherrystone clams (OR three 6 1/2 ounce canned clams, drained)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parlsey
- Oyster crackers for serving
- Chopped fresh parsley for serving
*If using fresh clams: Place the clams and 4 cups water in a stock pot and bring it to a boil. Cook just until the clams have opened, about 8-10 minutes. After 10 minutes, discard any unopened clams. Use a slotted spoon to remove the cooked clams, let them cool, then remove the meat and roughly chop it. Set aside.
*If using canned clams, save them until step 5.
Fry the pancetta in a medium stock pot until crispy then remove with a slotted spoon, leaving about a tablespoon of the grease in the pot.
Add the butter to the pot along with the onions, celery and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat for 6-8 minutes until softened but not browned. Add the flour, stir to combine and cook for a minute.
Add the broth and white wine, stirring to prevent the flour from clumping, and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Add the potatoes, thyme, bay leaves, salt, pepper and half of the pancetta. Simmer the chowder for 20-25 minutes until the potatoes are extremely tender. The consistency is right when the potatoes are so soft that some have begun to fall apart. If you prefer the chowder to be thicker or less chunky, discard the bay leaves and use an immersion blender (or transfer 1 cup of the chowder to a blender) puree just a small portion of it.
Add the clams, cream and parsley and heat through for 5 minutes, add salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately sprinkled with the remaining pancetta, fresh parsley and oyster crackers.