I’m a Colorado native, so let’s just say, clam chowder was not a part of my upbringing. If you really want to be grossed out, as I was, all the clam chowder I ever saw around these parts came out of a can. Mushy, sludgy, with clams as chewy as gumi bears and far from tempting. Fortunately, through the years, supply of fresh fish and what used to be hard-to-find groceries are now all readily available, and somewhere along the way, I tried a clam chowder and LIKED it. I couldn’t tell you where, and I’m not even sure how it came to be that I started to crave the stuff. To the point that I needed to make it in order to have it. I do know that the clam chowder of the East Coast seems to be what chili is for the South. Every mini-region has their own “best” way to make it. I don’t care much for Manhattan style (keep the tomatoes out, I say), and so I did a search and found that Ina had a version that was likely to be just perfect. But my buddy Billy who works the fish counter at WF said I had to add bacon. So, who’s going to argue with that? Maybe I broke some East Hampton chowder law, but it is delicious! Homemade clam chowder was not only easy, but truly a special treat.
When Sarah asked if we could make clam chowder for our next soup session, I was ecstatic! Tuck this recipe away for a rainy spring day — you’ll be so glad you did.
East Hampton Clam Chowder
recipe by Ina Garten (with some slight tweaking)
Note: I alter this recipe slightly by adding bacon and decreasing the butter. Also, since I don’t live in “the Hamptons,” finding pounds and pounds of shucked clams and fresh clam juice is just not an option. So, I buy really good clam juice and use shucked clams that are sold frozen, and then supplement with about a pound or so of fresh clams, in their shells, for that authentic fresh-clam-briny-taste, and because it looks so beautiful.
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
- 1/2 lb. bacon, chopped into small cubes
- 2 cups medium-diced celery (4 stalks)
- 2 cups medium-diced carrots (6 carrots)
- 4 cups peeled medium-diced boiling potatoes (8 potatoes)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 quart (4 cups) clam juice (I found a good quality bottled clam juice)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups milk
- 3 cups chopped fresh chowder clams (1 1/2 pounds shucked clams) OR if you are land-locked…. 3/4 lb. frozen chopped clams thawed and just over a pound of fresh clams, scrubbed (I used Little Neck as those are the most readily available here in CO).
- Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large heavy-bottomed stockpot. Add the onions and cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, then add the bacon and continue to cook another 5 minutes or until bacon is somewhat browned and onion is translucent. Add the celery, carrots, potatoes, thyme, salt, and pepper and saute for 10 more minutes. Add the clam juice, (plus additional water if needed to cover ingredients by about 2 inches) bring to a boil, and simmer, uncovered, until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
- In a small pot, melt the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter and whisk in the flour. Cook over very low heat for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Whisk in a cup of the hot broth (it will get very thick, but don’t be afraid!) and then pour this mixture back into the cooked vegetables, whisking well. Simmer for a few minutes until the broth is thickened.
- Add the milk and clams and heat gently for a few minutes to cook the clams. (If you are using frozen and fresh clams in the shell, first add the thawed clams and when the soup returns to a simmer, add the fresh clams, and cover the pot, stirring occasionally until they open wide). Taste for salt and pepper. Serve hot.