I am going to proudly say that this is, by far, hands down, the best ever New England Clam Chowder. Ever.
I have been a lifelong New England clam chowder connoisseur. It is my jam. It is pure comfort in a bowl. Its the one thing I crave when its cold and dreary outside in the winter. Shoot, I crave it year round.
I asked a question on my Facebook page the other day of " Clam Chowder: yes or no? And the red or the white?". White AKA New England clam chowder won by a landslide. I got a few "ew, no, yuk, barf" and a few for the red (Manhattan) AND someone mentioned Rhode Island clam chowder. I had never heard of it before. So I googled. Its pretty much like the New England clam chowder but without the cream or milk, just a clear broth, mostly just the clam juice or a fish stock. Sounds good to me!
I think I have had Manhattan clam chowder once. I much prefer Cioppino for a "red" or tomato based broth seafood stew. My heart has always belonged to the white chowdah. I grew up in Southern California where there are a plethora of amazing seafood restaurants all along the entire coast. I have had my share of chowders from San Diego to San Francisco. My favorite, absolute favorite, resides at the best seafood restaurant ever: Brophy Bros. in Santa Barbara. My hometown.
Brophy's is in the Santa Barbara harbor. Its been there forever. A pure local favorite. Its not a huge restaurant and often there is a wait for a seat on the narrow balcony, but the wait is worth it. You overlook the harbor, watch urchin boats unload their catch of the day on the dock, and smell the fresh sea air. The view is worth the wait. Their New England clam chowder there is worth the wait.
They serve the chowder with the best, sour, crusty bread ever. I could eat my bodyweight in bread and chowder at Brophy's. I think I have before. Another awesome place for clam chowder is Jake's in Portland, Or. We lived there for 6 years in the drearly, cold, yucky weather. An occasional trip to Jake's made it a little more bearable. Jake's chowder was a little thicker than Brophy's. Both amazingly good, in their own way.
There was also a seafood restaurant I worked at in Santa Barbara that served up a mean chowder. I was a bartender, day bar manager, weekend manager and sometimes prep chef when the prep chef was out surfing and we couldn't get a hold of him to come in to do his job. So often times I got to make the chowder early weekend mornings before we opened up. Sounds like I did a ton of stuff there, but it was a part time job during college. I had fun, the best part was learning how they made their chowder. Inspired by all those three chowders, I started working on my own chowder recipe.
I actually can't tell you how many years I have been making my own clam chowder recipe. It was before we moved to Oregon, so Jake's chowder came as a later on inspiration. I have made chowder from using a gazillion fresh clams to make my own clam stock to these GIANT 3lb 3 ounce cans of fresh sea clams from Costco. When I realized that the giant cans had almost enough clam juice that I didn't have to make my own stock I have been using those ever since. Until one trip to the Oregon Coast that has forever changed my mind about the types of clams being used.
That meal is the only exception to this recipe I am posting today about being the best ever. That truly was the best ever. Why? Because my husband and some friends went out crabbing and clam digging and brought me back the hugest pile of cockles I had ever seen. Nothing beats freshly caught seafood. There was an old Alaskan homestead cookbook at our friend's beach house that had a salmon chowder recipe in it that I based that chowder recipe that night off. The guys shucked and rinsed the cockles, I prepped the rest of the ingredients. I found the biggest stock pot I could and went to work. People helped themselves to seconds and thirds. Everyone said it was the best ever.
The reason I am sharing this recipe instead of the one I made that one day on the Oregon coast? Because not everyone has access to giant freshly caught cockles or sea clams. Aside from that, I also can't remember 100% that exact recipe. I change it slightly every time. I have made it with bacon, I have made it without. With bacon is always better.
I have made it with flour as the thickening agent, I have also thickened it by pureeing some of the soup with the potatoes. Sometimes I add carrots. Its really a base great base recipe to add in what you want or what you have on hand. Classic clam chowder uses all heavy cream. I find that to be, well, heavy. I use low fat milk and half and half. Once in a while I use heavy cream. Depends on my mood. Always serve with good crusty bread to dip in the chowder and wash it down with a good glass of wine. I give you now, my BEST ever New England Clam Chowder recipe :
- 4 slices thick bacon, diced
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 medium-large leeks, white and light green part only, sliced in half lengthwise, rinsed and then diced (3 cups)
- 1 medium shallot, peeled and minced (4 Tbsp.)
- 1 cup sweet onion, diced
- 2-4 medium carrots, peeled and diced (½-1 cup)
- 4 stalks celery, diced (1 cup)
- 4 large cloves garlic, peeled minced
- ⅔ C dry white wine
- 1 and ¼ Cups low fat milk (I use Straus Organic)
- 3 large bay leaves
- 5-6 fresh Thyme sprigs
- 2 ½ lbs red skinned potatoes, chopped into 1” pieces
- 6 Cups clam juice (reserved liquid from the canned clams plus 2-3 8oz bottles of clam juice to equal 6 cups total)
- 1 cup half and half (I use Straus Organic)
- 4 lbs chopped canned clams (I used one 3.3 lbs can Sea Watch Chopped Sea Clams
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 Tbsp. Flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
- Reserved bacon pieces
- Steamed manila clams*
If you make steamed clams for garnish - soak one pound of manilla clams in salt water ( 1 tablespoon salt per quart of cold water) and soak through 2-3 changes of salt water to rinse out as much grit and sand as you can. Set a pan of water over medium heat and set a steamer basket over the water. Place the clams in the basket and bring the water to a boil and cover with a lid. Steam for 5-8 minutes. Throw away any clams that didn't open and keep the clams warm until ready to serve.
** some reviewers are saying its too many carrots. I like the carrots, but if you want, leave them out. The trick to get the soup thick is to puree some with the potatoes so don't skip this part or you will have thin soup.