Monday, March 2, 2009

Friday Dinner: Clam Chowder

I've been remiss in blogging about two Friday dinners in a row! Maybe it's because, subconsciously, I want to keep two wonderful recipes to myself. :D Nah, that's not it. I don't really have a good reason; I'm just a procrastinator at heart (and everywhere else).

The previous Friday, Trix and I made our first-ever attempt at clam chowder. It was nearly a rousing success. I say nearly because we had to make individual adjustments to the recipe to get it to our liking -- mostly to do with consistency. The flavor of the chowder is quite good, if a little too infused with bacon (which is something neither of us thought we'd ever say).

I used whole clams, because live Manila clams were available at my local 99 Ranch, and because I can't forget the memory of the best clam chowder I ever had at a Gladstone's in Malibu, which had whole clams in it. It's the only clam chowder I've ever had that used whole clams. This was more than a decade ago, however, and I've heard that they've since stopped doing that (probably cost prohibitive) -- which is too bad. But all the more reason to make it myself, if possible.

If you can't find live clams, using the canned minced kind is perfectly acceptable -- Trix used them and she's made this chowder twice already.

We both found that cooking the chowder for the original time specified wasn't nearly enough time for the soup to thicken to a consistency we liked. I don't particularly like my chowder too thick, but nor should it be as thin as broth. She found that cooking it longer (therefore melting the potatoes further and allowing more moisture to evaporate) made the consistency work better for her; I found that adding more flour made it absolutely perfect for me. I'd recommend trying her method if you have the time, and if it doesn't get to the consistency you want, add flour. Or if you're pressed for time and want to get thicker results more quickly, just add more flour from the start.

We're still doing some experimenting with this recipe (we definitely like it enough to make it many times!), such as trying to figure out if the smoked ham is absolutely necessary, or if there are different points in which we should add potatoes, to make sure they're not all melted in the final result.

Clam Chowder - adapted from a recipe found here

Serves 6


  • 4oz. bacon, diced
  • 2oz. smoked ham, diced
  • 3 cups minced clams, drained and juice reserved
  • 3 cups chopped onions
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups water + reserved clam juice
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 6 cups potatoes, diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Butter and paprika (optional)
  • Finely minced chives (optional)


  1. Saute the bacon and ham together, until the bacon is nearly crisp. Add onions and saute until limp. Set this mixture aside, but do not drain.
  2. In a heavy bottomed pot, add the potatoes, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour what reserved clam juice you have into a measuring cup and add water until it reaches 2 1/2 cups. Cook until the potatoes are tender, 15-20 minutes.
  3. To the bacon, ham, and onion mixture add the flour and make a roux. Mix theroux into the potato mixture and bring to a boil. Stir down when it's boiling, then add the milk and clams.
  4. Simmer until hot, stirring often. Do not allow the chowder to boil again once the milk is added or it will separate. If the chowder isn't thick enough, add more flour (if you use a thickener like Wondra, you can just sprinkle it directly into the chowder; if you use regular flour you'll probably want to make a thin paste with some water before mixing it in or it'll just be lumpy).
  5. Serve when the chowder is thickened to your liking and hot. Garnish each bowl with a dollop of butter, a dash of paprika, and/or chives.

Note: If you're using fresh clams, as I did, you'll want to steam them first. Get about an inch of water boiling in a large pot that has a lid. Wash the clams and put them in a heatproof bowl that will fit into the pot when covered. Put the bowl into the pot while the water is simmering. Cover. Steam for 3 minutes; you'll probably start to hear some of the clams pop open. Set the lid aside and remove the clams that have opened. The ones on the bottom probably haven't, so you'll want to put the lid back on and repeat those steps until all the clams are open. Remove the clams from their shells (up to you if you want to include the ligament) and place them in a separate bowl until ready to use in the chowder. Discard the shells. The bowl you used to steam the clam will probably be full of clam-infused water; you should reserve it to use in the chowder. Safest thing to do is line a strainer with some cheesecloth and strain the juice through it (in case there's sand).

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