Homemade(ish) Clam Chowder

by Elizabeth Dengler, The Huckleberry Home

As part of my weekly “Mom Planning” I write up a menu on a whiteboard in our kitchen. This helps with meal rotation, so something isn’t made too often; and it is a great lead into composing my grocery list for the week. My family always has input and after the menu is up I can expect to see fun “additions” to the meal plan, i.e. “Sausage and Mac” night turns into “Sausage and the Macarena” night, “Minestrone” turns into “Minestrone and Chill” and “Chinese Food Night” turns into “Chinese Food and Dance Party”… you get the idea. But one morning I glanced at the list to find in very neatly printed, block letters “HomeMade Clam Chowder”. I scratched my head and walked into the living room to inform my husband he misspelled “homemade” only to find out from him, he didn’t write it. He followed up by saying that Josh, our 10-year-old, said the night before that he’d really like some homemade clam chowder and at his dad’s suggestion, he should write it on the menu board.. Now, this is curious because I’ve never made clam chowder in my life. As a family, we usually eat clam chowder at least once a year when we’re visiting Seattle and Josh is a fan. Apparently, he had developed a craving since our travels to Seattle this year were thwarted by Covid. Not to let a 10-year-old down, I did some research and put together the most scrumptious pot of clam chowder East of the Cascades. Now, don’t judge a mom who has never cooked her own clams when I reached for the canned, chopped variety. If you are a clam steamer, have at it, that’s amazing! This comes together really easily and the flavor is out of this world!

10 slices of bacon, Hill’s Hardwood Smoked is my favorite

2 celery ribs, chopped

1 large Walla Walla sweet onion or yellow onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 small Yukon gold potatoes cut into small cubes, no need to peel (if you sub with a Russet, I recommend peeling)

1 cup vegetable broth

1 8 oz bottle of clam juice, I use Bar Harbor

Salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon thyme, dried or fresh, use a combination of 1 teaspoon dried and a few sprigs fresh

2 T cornstarch

2 cups half-and-half or whole milk

4 cans chopped clams in clam juice (6 1/2 oz size), DON’T DRAIN

Chopped green onion and fresh thyme sprigs for garnish

Pull out your Dutch oven or your favorite 5 Quart stock pot with lid, it’s all happening in this one cooking vessel. We’re starting with the bacon, but before you cook the bacon, slice it into square pieces. Place the squares in your pot over medium high heat, using a wooden spatula to turn the bacon to cook, beware spitting grease. Towards the end of the cook time, I like to crank the heat to high and let the bacon really crisp up, aka burn, this is a personal preference and if you don’t like crispy bacon pull it off the heat at your preference. Remove pot from heat and using a slotted spatula, remove your bacon bits to a paper towel and set aside. If you turned your burner up, turn it back down to medium and add your celery and onion to the bacon grease in your pot and set your dutch oven back on the heat. Depending on how large you cut your onion this sauté process can take about 10-15 minutes. Towards the last few minutes of the cook time, add in your minced garlic. At this point I like to take about half a cup of the broth and mix it in a snap-on container with my corn starch to make a little slurry. Stir in the starch slurry with your vegetables, add the remaining broth and the bottle of clam juice. Base will be thick. Bring to a boil and reduce to medium low heat. If your base is too thick you can drain a can or 2 of your canned clam juice into the base to thin it. Add your potatoes, place your lid on to cover and cook until your potatoes are fork tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Once your potatoes are tender, stir in your chopped clams (including juices), half and half, thyme, salt, pepper and half your cooked bacon (save some bacon for garnish). Allow to simmer, uncovered for at least 10 minutes, stirring only occasionally. 

To serve, ladle into a bowl and garnish with some fresh thyme, bacon bits and a little green onion. Serve with a side of warm sourdough bread and Caesar salad. As we get into our fall rain and cool weather this makes a great warm up kind of dinner. Refrigerate leftovers.

What are some of your favorite warm-up recipes? Have you discovered a new fall favorite? Share it with us and we’ll share it in an upcoming issue. Elizabeth@huckleberrypress.com