Homemade New England Clam Chowder & Crab Cakes

1606278_692012374208256_1620097050319209007_o2.pngEver since I was a little kid, I’ve loved clam chowder. I’m very picky with soups and cream based soups or chowders have always been my favorite. I mean what’s not to like — rich and creamy and chock full of potatoes and tender clams with crunchy oyster crackers on top… I’ll take clam chowder over something boring like lentil soup any day!

While I’ve had clam chowder in the summer, winter and fall and at countless restaurants all over the country, I’ll always associate clam chowder with summers on cape cod vacationing in Provincetown. There’s something about clam chowder that’s so familiar and homey and lately I’ve been quite nostalgic for New England and especially the Cape.

And I may now live in New York, but I’ve called Boston my home for a lot longer… Manhattan clam chowder is a disgrace on the clam chowder name! (There are actually apparently many “State” clam chowders such as  Rhode Island Clam Chowder and even New Jersey Clam Chowder… my New England Clam Chowder is the only legitimate one in my eyes though)

Fun fact: Many say the name chowder comes from the French chaudiere, a cauldron in which fishermen made their stews fresh from the sea.

It, of course, never occurred to me that you could make clam chowder at home. But this past weekend, hanging out at the pool with great company, I figured it would be a perfect summer lunch accompaniment alongside crispy crab cakes! I was pleasantly surprised how (relatively) easy it was!

There was a great Serious Eats article I found noting the pitfalls of many clam chowder recipes and the difficulty of getting a creamy unbroken broth. It seemed a little daunting at first knowing the obstacles to a good chowda, but it was a great recipe and it turned out wonderfully all in all.

As the Serious Eats articles notes, one of the first decisions to make regarding your chowda is your use of clams. I decided to go with pre-minced clams we got from the fish market at the grocery store along with a pound of whole littlenecks. I steamed my whole clams in the soup until they opened and then discarded the shells, chopping up the clam meat and adding it to my minced clams. It worked out perfectly – both adding nice flavor!

The more difficult aspect of this chowda was getting an unbroken broth. After sautéing the bacon and vegetables, there’s a fair amount of oil in your pot and after adding the milk, the mixture starts to separate. The trick (or solution) I learned was to strain the mixture and blend the liquid so it emulsifies. You then add your cream and you no longer have a broken broth! (Now, I did this process and then went to go hang out by the pool so my broth was a tad unbroken when I returned. But had I served it immediately, it would have been a beautiful perfect broth!).

New England Clam Chowder

Adapted from Serious Eats

1/2 pound bacon, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 tbsp butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

1/3 cup dry white wine

1 cup water

1 1/2 lbs littleneck clams and 3/4 lb minced clams (see note above)

1 quart whole milk

1½ pounds russet, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 bay leaves

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup heavy cream

Oyster crackers, for serving

Sauté bacon in a large Dutch oven, stirring occasionally until the bacon has begun to brown. Add butter, onion and celery and continue cooking until onions are softened, about 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with wine. Add water and stir to combine. Simmer for three to five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade New England Clam Chowder

Add clams and increase heat to high. Cover and cook until clams begin to open, about 3 minutes. Remove clams and transfer to a large bowl. Discard any unopened clams.

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade New England Clam Chowder

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade New England Clam Chowder

Add milk, potatoes, bay leaves, and a pinch of salt and pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Cook until potatoes are tender and starting to break down, about 15 minutes.

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade New England Clam Chowder

Meanwhile, remove the meat from the clams and roughly chop. Add to the minced clams and set aside.

Once potatoes are tender, pour the entire mixture (along with the minced clams) through the fine mesh strainer into a bowl. You should end up with a white, semi-broken broth in the bowl and the solids (chopped clams, potatoes, bacon, and aromatics) in a separate one.

Transfer liquid to a blender and blend on high speed until smooth and emulsified, about 2 minutes. (Be sure not to overfill your blender… I speak from experience on this one!).

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade New England Clam Chowder

Return liquid and solids back to Dutch oven. Add heavy cream and stir to combine. Reheat until simmering. Season well with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with oyster crackers.

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade New England Clam Chowder

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade New England Clam Chowder

And to go along with my chowder, I served crab cakes, which were a lovely pairing. The breading in these crab cakes, which I found clever, were saltine crackers!

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Crab Cakes

The meal was a hit! Everyone really enjoyed it. Patty, whose opinion I really value and who’s never eaten my cooking before commented “the kid can cook” and remarked it was the best clam chowder she’s ever had.

It was rich and creamy but still light and had good flavor from every component. The crab cakes were moist and the crab really shined through!

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Homemade New England Clam Chowder & Crab Cakes

It made for a lovely meal hanging out at the pool. I wish I still had leftovers but with something this good, those chances are slim! I leave you all with this Simpsons reference on chowda (since I’ve begun saying it in a Boston accent and I can’t stop!).

chowda

New England Clam Chowder
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • ½ pound bacon, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • ⅓ cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup water
  • 1½ lbs littleneck clams and ¾ lb minced clams (see note above)
  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1½ pounds russet, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Oyster crackers, for serving
Instructions
  1. Sauté bacon in a large Dutch oven, stirring occasionally until the bacon has begun to brown. Add butter, onion and celery and continue cooking until onions are softened, about 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with wine. Add water and stir to combine. Simmer for three to five minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add clams and increase heat to high. Cover and cook until clams begin to open, about 3 minutes. Remove clams and transfer to a large bowl. Discard any unopened clams.
  3. IMG_0374
  4. IMG_0377
  5. Add milk, potatoes, bay leaves, and a pinch of salt and pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Cook until potatoes are tender and starting to break down, about 15 minutes.
  6. IMG_0396
  7. Meanwhile, remove the meat from the clams and roughly chop. Add to the minced clams and set aside.
  8. Once potatoes are tender, pour the entire mixture (along with the minced clams) through the fine mesh strainer into a bowl. You should end up with a white, semi-broken broth in the bowl and the solids (chopped clams, potatoes, bacon, and aromatics) in a separate one.
  9. Transfer liquid to a blender and blend on high speed until smooth and emulsified, about 2 minutes. (Be sure not to overfill your blender... I speak from experience on this one!).
  10. Return liquid and solids back to Dutch oven. Add heavy cream and stir to combine. Reheat until simmering. Season well with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with oyster crackers.
 

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