It is my wholehearted belief that every New England cook should have at least one ‘chowda’ recipe in their repertoire, recipe box, notebook, or what have you. Forgetting how easy it is to make or even how ‘hassle free’ the cooking is in a crock pot or slow cooker over the course of the day; the bottom line is this… cooks, chefs, and even ‘Iron Chefs’ alike, should pride themselves in their regional recipes. Take Louisiana Gumbo, Southern Fried Chicken, or even South Western Quesadillas as examples. If you live in Louisiana, you better know at least one gumbo Recipe. That’s all I’m saying. New Englanders, in my opinion, should be no different when carrying the torch for our regional New England recipes, and White Clam Chowder is an excellent place to start. With that in mind, I’m going to give you a good place to start (my version of it of course). I am a New Englander, and who better to learn from?
This (my version) white New England clam chowder recipe is done in a slow cooker crock pot, so if you don’t have one, you should get one. I absolutely love slow cookers. Their ease of use and the ability to just prep something and leave it to cook while you’re going about your day gives a no maintenance kinda feel and is very well received in my world. No maintenance… no hovering over the meal, and plenty of leftovers. If you don’t have a crock pot or slow cooker, then a good sized stock pot will do or even a good sized dutch oven. This recipe will make a gallon and a half of White New England Clam Chowder. It’s made in a 6 quart crock pot, so you’ll need at least a stock pot or dutch oven that will hold 6 quarts.
You’ll find this recipe very easy to tweak to your liking. Instead of canned clams, you can use 1 quart of shucked clams with the liquid (that kind of thing).
- Clams - 4-6 cans chopped clams (6.5 oz ea.). I use Snows myself. The clams come in the clam juice already and the clam juice is used in this recipe as well, so it's a 'win win'. 4 cans if you plan on adding my bacon tweak below, or 6 cans if you like clams. If you use shucked clams, make sure you save some of the liquid or have at least 1 oz bottle clam juice to add.
- Potatoes - 1 pound is fine but you can creep it up to 2 lbs., I generally use 5-6 large potatoes peeled, cooked and make sure you chop into bite sized pieces before boiling.
- Onions - 1 large onion chopped small.
- Butter - 3/4 cup
- Flour - 3/4 cup (all purpose)
- Half and Half cream - 3 cups (at least, but this is usually added next to last and I usually add what I need to fill the crock pot, with everything else that's about 3 cups usually).
- Garlic - 3-4 cloves minced or about a tablespoon from the jar stuff (which is just fine by the way).
- Bacon - 1 lb chopped and then cooked (OPTIONAL)- This is my own personal tweak. Bacon goes great with seafood and gives this chowda a nice flavor backbone. A couple cap fulls of liquid smoke will do if you want the flavor signature but you don't have the bacon.
- Seasoning - 1-2 Tablespoon Dill Weed, Salt, and Pepper to taste. If you add the bacon, you can drop the salt addition here.
- To Start, you're going to boil the chopped potatoes. Usually 10-15 minutes. Drain and set aside. I usually go ten minutes because the potatoes will still be firm but on their way to tender and they're going to continue to cook when you put them in the crock pot anyway. If you're not going all day with the crock pot then it's usually 15-20 minutes on the potatoes. I usually try and use red potatoes, but general all purpose potatoes will do. If you're using the russet variety, understand that they'll tend to become soft quick and are generally best for mashed potatoes... but they can be used here if you have to.
- In another pot, bring your clams and clam juice to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer (approx 15 minutes).
- In another pan (at least 2 quart) you're going to melt the butter and saute the onions until they become translucent. Stir in the flour and keep on low heat for a 2-3 minutes. Yes... you are making a roux.
- Slowly stir the hot clams and clam juice into your roux (flour mixture). Slowly bring to a boil and let stand on low while you put everything in the crock pot.
- Add cooked potatoes to crock pot. Pour clam stock over potatoes. Add (bacon, optional), dill weed, salt and pepper, and then add your half and half. Give an initial SLOW stir to mix the ingredients, cover and cook on low for the day. Faster times can be achieved by bumping it up to high on the crock pot of course... as long as you don't keep it there.
- Cooking it slow over the course of the day gives a nice creamy texture and a full flavor to the chowda. If you can go all day (at least 6 hours?), it's well worth the effort. Stir occasionally, but initially wait 2 hours if you're using a crock pot.
This recipe works and tastes just fine in a stock pot instead of a slow cooker for faster times, but you’ll sacrifice the rich flavor you get by slow cooking ingredients together over the course of the day. You could of course just cook it slow and low on the stove as well in the absence of a slow cooker. It doesn’t matter what you use to cook it with because essentially you’re just mixing the ingredients together and heating them. Everything is already cooked, and you’re now trying to marry those flavors. If you’re going to go the stove route, I usually go 20 minutes on medium to medium high heat. Make sure not to boil, but a few bubbles will usually creep in. This 20 minute cooking time usually makes sure the red potatoes are ‘right’ to my liking.
What you have to remember about potatoes is that the longer they cook, the more starch you may see making it’s way into the chowda, which in turn will thicken the longer it’s cooked. More so on the russets.. but any potato really. That’s not something you’ll see with a four to five hour cook time but if you’re the type of person that likes to get everything ready the night before and simply turn the slow cooker on low before you go to work in the morning, only to return 10-12 hours later; you might find the chowda start to thicken when you get home. I usually will add more half and half to bring the chowda back to a good consistency.