New England Clam Chowder to me has always been the most comfortable of comfort foods. A soup made from potatoes, celery, a cream-based stock, and of course, clams, New England Clam Chowder is full of the textures and flavors that make you feel at home. Being born and bred in Brooklyn, I always grew up with the tomato-based Manhattan Clam Chowder, but once I moved to Binghamton for college, I discovered what the rest of the country considered the best chowder in town.
Last year, I discovered the best New England Clam Chowder in Manhattan–which sounds like a bit of an oxymoron!–is from the Pearl Oyster Bar, who makes their chowder with double-cured bacon for an extra smoky flavor. The soup is prepared when it’s ordered, so you get a fresh bowl every time–not something that’s been sitting in the soup tureen all day, waiting for you to order it. Intrepid amateur cooks can try out the recipe for themselves, as it’s found in owner Rebecca Charles’ memoir and cookbook, Lobster Rolls and Blueberry Pie. This recipe calls for all fresh ingredients, including live clams fresh from the dock. No chopped clams in a can here!
8 lbs Clams
1/4 lb Double-smoked bacon, diced
1 tsp Cooking oil
1 Large onion, chopped
2 Large white potatoes
1 cup Clam juice
3 cups Heavy cream
Kosher salt and pepper
Ideally you should steam the clams yourself and not buy them in a can. To steam the clams, put them in a pot with a tight-fitting lid with a couple of cups of water. The process takes 3 to 5 minutes. As soon as the shell is open, it’s done. Reserve the broth.
To make the chowder in a 4 to 6 quart saucepot, render the bacon in the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until it is translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the potatoes, stirring occasionally, and saute for 3 minutes. Stir in the clam broth, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes. Stir in the cream and simmer for another 25 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Add the clams and simmer for 5 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle the chowder into bowls and sprinkle with the chopped chives and serve with oyster crackers.