First, you click your ruby slippers together three times and say you yourself, "I’m from New England, not Manhattan." If you can’t get past that, there’s no point in continuing.
But if you’re still reading, there are a few points to making a wonderful chowder. The first is the clams. Cherrystone or littleneck clams or cockles make the best chowder, but are more expensive than some other varieties. Lesser clams may not win you awards, but can still be delicious. Another consideration is that milk is liable to curdle, while heavy cream is not, so the choice is not just a flavor issue. Finally, don’t try to rush it. The onions will brown, the potatoes will get beaten to a pulp, and the clams will get tough if you crank up the heat. Awards are bestowed for flavor, not speed.
New England Clam Chowder
3 cups fish stock or water 1 cup dry white wine 8 pounds of clams 1/4 pound sliced bacon, cut in 1-inch pieces 3 medium onions, chopped 2 pounds of potatoes (about 3 medium sized), peeled and diced 2 cups of heavy cream 1 bouquet garni (thyme, a bay leaf, and parsley tied up in cheesecloth)
In a large pot, bring the stock and wine to a simmer. Add the bouquet garni. Add the clams, cover, and cook until the clams have opened (7 minutes or more for smaller clams, up to 15 minutes for large chowder clams.) Remove the clams from the pot, remove the clams from the shells and set aside. Strain the cooking liquid through three layers of cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel to remove sand, and set aside.
Cook the bacon until the pieces begin to crisp. Remove the pieces with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the onion to the bacon fat over low heat, and cook the onions until they are soft, but not brown. This may take 20 minutes. Pour in the clam cooking liquid, add the potatoes, and simmer gently until the potatoes are cooked through - probably another 20 minutes or so.
Five minutes before you’re ready to serve, add the clams, bacon and cream to the soup. Season with freshly ground pepper; salt is probably unnecessary. Serve with crackers or croutons. This makes 6 to 8 servings.
If, in lovely summer weather, you have fresh corn available, cut the kernels from a few cobs and add them to the soup in the last 5 to 10 minutes, as well.
Some day we’ll tell you how we make a Manhattan chowder, but not until we win some awards with it.