Clam chowder is simple on paper, but it’s also proof that combining a handful of high-quality ingredients creates something special — a meal that’s so satisfying and full of flavor. This version has everything you love about the New England classic, plus some earthy, aromatic thyme and bacon for rich, smoky notes.
When it comes to chowder, chunkiness is king — and this one is royally chunky. There are the tender morsels of littleneck clams, the salty bits of bacon, and the starchy hunks of potato. But what really makes this soup shine is the broth: leeks sautéed in rendered bacon fat, dry white wine, bay leaf, and a few sprigs of thyme bring a lovely, aromatic complexity to the briny, creamy base.
We finish it all off with a bit of chopped parsley, a bright, herbaceous flourish to the soup’s rich creaminess. And seriously: it’s really creamy stuff — but not so creamy that you can’t taste the subtle sweetness of the clams or the florality of the thyme. But our favorite? Getting a spoonful that’s loaded with potato and bacon chunks; they make the soup feel so hearty and comforting.
This clam chowder would be great served with some crusty bread, or a tangle of greens dressed with a bright, lemony vinaigrette. But it’s such a filling, flavorful soup, you really don’t need anything else to make it a meal (except maybe a nice, hoppy beer).
24 littleneck clams, rinsed
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
¼ lb Gelson’s bacon, diced
2 leeks, tops removed, halved, sliced into half moons, soaked, and rinsed
½ cup dry white wine
3 large Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed
3 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 cups heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Kosher salt, to taste
¼ cup chopped parsley leaves
Oyster crackers, for serving
Put the clams in a large, heavy Dutch oven with about 4 cups of water, then set over medium-high heat. Cook, covered, until the clams have opened, 10 to 15 minutes. (Clams that fail to open after 15 to 20 minutes should be discarded.)
Strain the clam broth through a sieve lined with cheesecloth or doubled-up paper towels, and set aside. Remove the clams from their shells and transfer to a bowl. Discard the shells. Rinse the pot and return it to the stove.
Heat the butter over medium-low heat in the Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat has rendered and the bacon has started to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel to drain, leaving the fat in the pan.
Add the leeks to the fat and cook, stirring frequently, until they are soft but not brown, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the wine and potatoes and continue to cook until the wine has evaporated and the potatoes have just started to soften, about 5 minutes.
Add enough of the reserved clam broth to just cover the potatoes, about 3 cups. Add the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Partially cover the pot and simmer gently until the potatoes are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, chop the clams into pieces about the size of the diced bacon.
When the potatoes are tender, add the cream and stir in the chopped clams and reserved bacon, and season with black pepper. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then remove it from the heat. Note: do not let the chowder come to a full boil.
Discard the thyme and bay leaf, and season with salt. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with oyster crackers. Optional: You can allow the chowder to rest, or cure, for about 45 to 60 minutes. When it’s ready to eat, reheat to a bare simmer, then garnish.
Recipe source: New York Times