There is only one chowder. All else is soup. And I'm a purist. I was taught to make clam chowder by a fantastic woman named Lydia, a professional cook and a notoriously hard drinker, from a Portuguese fishing family on Cape Cod. She was famous for her chowder'”and her behavior. At the end of a shift, she'd often stagger through the kitchen doors, lurch out into the dining room, and deliver loud, horribly profane tirades directed straight at the owner, who'd be sitting there, paralytic with fear, in front of his guests. It is a testament to her chowder, I think, that he tolerated this. She'd use salt pork instead of bacon and drizzle a little clarified butter over the top at the end. Old school. They don't make them like Lydia anymore.

In a large, heavy-bottom saute pan with a lid, arrange the clams, 1 to 2 dozen at a time, into a single layer. Add about ½ cup water, cover, and bring to a boil to steam the clams open. Check them frequently. Using tongs, remove the opened clams to a sheet pan to cool, and add more clams until they have all been steamed open, discarding any that have not opened after a reasonable amount of time'”there are usually one or two duds per 2 dozen clams. Once they're cool enough to handle, remove them from their shells, reserving as much of the ambient cooking liquid (generally referred to as 'œliquor') as possible, and place them in a small bowl or other container.

In a heavy-bottom stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the salt pork over medium heat until it begins to render its fat, adding a tablespoon or two of water to keep it from browning, and stirring occasionally. When the fat has mostly been rendered, add the onions, stirring well to coat them with the fat. Season the onions lightly with salt and pepper and cook until they are translucent but not browned. Add the potatoes and just enough water to cover. Cook the mixture at a simmer until the potatoes are just tender.

Whisk together the flour and a few tablespoons of the milk to make a smooth slurry, then add this mixture to the stockpot, stirring well. Add the clams and their liquor and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the clams are just warmed through. Just before serving, stir in the remaining milk and the cream and warm through, but do not boil. Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper as desired. Serve with the crackers alongside.

Serves 6 to 8

chowder Photo credit: Bobby Fisher Photography


8 dozen clams, preferably quahogs, scrubbed

¼ pound salt pork or best-quality bacon, diced

2 white or yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

Pilot crackers, for serving