New England Clam Chowder from Chatham Pier Fish Restaurant.Photo Credit : Kristin Teig
If salt pork, potatoes, and onions define traditional New England clam chowder, then this one is a classic, save for the use of bacon instead of salt pork. There’s always a pot simmering at this shingled shack on Chatham Pier, ready to ladle into pints and quarts. While purists might protest the roux (a mixture of butter and flour) used as a thickener, this not-too-thick, not-too-thin creamy-briny chowder — full of fresh chopped clams, potatoes, bacon, and a hint of thyme — will win them over. Chowder master Doug Ricciardi’s secret? Keep it “old school” by using white pepper. Nothing fancy but mighty fine, especially eaten at the nearby picnic tables on a sunny day with a view of the water and seals swimming by.
3 strips thick-cut bacon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 rib celery, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
2 medium-size white potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼-inch cubes
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups bottled clam juice, divided
1 pound chopped fresh clam meat, with juices (see Note)
Kosher salt to taste
3 cups light cream
1 teaspoon white pepper
Set a 4- to 6-quart pot over medium-low heat. Add the bacon and cook, turning occasionally, until crisp, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the bacon, leaving the fat in the pot, and crumble into small pieces; set aside.
Add the butter, onion, celery, thyme, and bay leaves to the pot. Cook, stirring often, until onions are tender and translucent, 6 to 8 minutes.
Return the bacon to the pot and stir. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the potatoes.
In a 2- to 3-quart pot on high heat, boil the diced potatoes in salted water until tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Turning back to the onion/bacon mixture, increase the heat to medium-low.
Add the flour gradually, stirring continuously, until a thick paste forms. Stir and cook 5 minutes.
Increase the heat to medium and slowly add the bottled clam juice, 1 cup at a time, incorporating it into the mixture before adding more.
Increase the heat to medium-high and add the potatoes and clam meat with its juices. Keep stirring 5 minutes, until the clams are tender.
Add the cream slowly; then stir in the white pepper.
Discard the bay leaves before serving. Serve hot.