The Ultimate: Clam Chowder

In the great clam chowder debate, everyone has an opinion. Tomato-based Manhattan takes on creamy New England, and there’s even a small rogue faction that declares Rhode Island the best. Within the ranks of team New England, the rancor continues: DeMun Oyster Bar chef (and native New Englander) Ben Edison claims roux is verboten, but Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co. chef-owner Kevin Nashan swears by it. Blues City Deli owner Vince Valenza opts for a pork-free version and adds carrots for sweetness, while other recipes call for ham hocks and potatoes. We tested batch after batch and consulted with the experts to bring you the ultimate New England clam chowder.

Bob’s Seafood regularly has littleneck clams available in-shell. To save time (and sanity), buy enough littleneck clams for the broth and buy another cup of shucked quahog clams to add texture and flavor to the chowder. Bob’s Seafood, 8660 Olive Blvd., University City, 314.993.4844,

Roux is a line in the sand. Broth devotees decry its use, claiming a true clam chowder relies only on potatoes and cream to create a silky smooth soup. We put both versions to the test, and we say bring on the roux – and lots of it. For a thick, luxurious chowder, make a half-cup of roux. In a large pan with high sides, add 1 stick butter and ½ cup flour and cook over low heat 15 to 20 minutes, whisking frequently.

You must make your own clam stock, but if you need a little extra clam juice to top it off, use Bar Harbor brand.

“It’s clam chowder.
It’s not potato chowder. It’s not bacon chowder.”
– Kevin Nashan, chef-owner, Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co.

“Consider yourself poaching the seafood, not cooking the seafood. Don’t boil the clams; gently simmer them.”
– Ben Edison, executive chef, DeMun Oyster Bar

“Make it a day in advance. The flavors really meld together with that time.”
– Vince Valenza, owner, Blues City Deli

Clam Stock

4 cups

20 to 25 littleneck clams, scrubbed well
4½ cups water, divided
½ cup clam juice, plus more as needed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 celery ribs, diced
½ medium onion, diced
½ leek, white parts only, sliced
¼ fennel bulb, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
¹∕³ cup dry white wine
8 peppercorns
1 bay leaf
3 to 4 sprigs fresh thyme

• Fill a steamer basket with the clams and place inside a large stockpot. Add 1½ cups water, cover and place over high heat. Let steam 6 minutes. Uncover and remove any opened clams and set them aside. Cover again and steam the remaining clams another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the opened clams and set them aside. Discard any that do not open.
• Pour the liquid in the stockpot through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth or a large coffee filter. Reserve the liquid, adding enough clam juice to make 2 cups. Set aside.
• Remove the meat from the cooled clams and set aside. Reserve the shells.
• In a clean stockpot over medium heat, warm the olive oil and sweat the celery, onion, leek and fennel until soft, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Do not brown the vegetables.
• Add the wine and raise the heat to medium-high. Let simmer until the wine is almost evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes.
• Add the reserved clam juice, clam shells, peppercorns, bay leaf, thyme sprigs and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer gently 30 minutes. The broth should smell like the ocean and taste mildly salty.
• Carefully remove and discard the solids, then strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth or a large coffee filter. Let cool and refrigerate overnight.

Clam Chowder

6 servings

4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into ½-inch dice
¼ cup minced celery
¼ cup minced leek, white parts only
½ cup minced shallot
1 large clove garlic, minced
½ cup roux
4 cups cold clam stock
¾ lb. Yukon potatoes, peeled and diced into ½-inch cubes
3 to 4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2½ cups whole milk, plus more as needed, divided
½ cup reserved littleneck clam meat, chopped
1 cup shucked quahog clam meat, chopped
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Finely chopped chives, for garnish

• In a large saucepot, saute the bacon over medium-high heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, place on a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.
• Lower the heat to medium and sweat the celery, leek and shallot in the bacon fat until soft, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and sweat until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Do not brown the vegetables. Remove the pot from the heat and set aside.
• In a separate saucepot over low heat, warm the roux. Add ½ cup clam stock and whisk until the liquid is incorporated, then add another ½ cup stock. Whisk another 1 cup stock into the roux until incorporated.
• Pour the remaining 2 cups stock into the saucepot with the vegetables over low heat, then add the roux and whisk until everything is incorporated. Add the potatoes, thyme sprigs and bay leaf and stir to coat. Raise the heat to medium and let simmer, stirring often, until the potatoes are barely fork-tender, about 15 minutes. The mixture will look thick and gluey.
• Remove the saucepot from the heat and slowly stir in 2 cups milk until combined. Fold in the littleneck and quahog clam meat and the bacon and season to taste with salt and pepper. Let the chowder cool completely and refrigerate overnight to let the flavors intensify.
• Before serving, place the pot of cold chowder over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until warmed through. Add the remaining ½ cup milk and stir to combine, adding more milk to thin if desired. Remove and discard the bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with chives and serve with oyster crackers.