Cape Cod Cookery
Aunt Ida’s Cape Cod Clam Chowder
A real Cape Cod clam chowder is a thing of modest beauty. It is not thickened or overly creamy. It is nothing more than tender clams, little crispy cubes of salt pork (or bacon), some minced onion and celery, a couple of diced potatoes – all swimming in a rich, milky, buttery broth redolent of the sea. The below is my best re-creation of the chowder I used to make with my grandmother.
In A Side of Murder, Aunt Ida digs her own quahogs (just like Granny and I did), but any reputable fish monger should have fresh hard shell clams on hand. If these aren’t available to you, frozen or canned clams are a perfectly respectable substitute.
2 1/2 pounds hard shell clams such as littlenecks, cherrystones, or quahogs (in order of increasing size)
OR 1 pound frozen clams (unshelled)
OR 2 cups of chopped or minced canned clams, drained (six 6.5 oz. cans)
4 cups bottled clam broth (if using canned or frozen clams)
1 quart whole milk
1 1/2 pounds (about 3 cups) russet (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes no larger than 1/2-inch
2 bay leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Optional: 1 cup heavy cream (Aunt Ida never would, but it does make it extra yummy)
1) If using fresh clams, rinse them under running water to clean the shells and set aside. If using frozen clams, thaw them in the refrigerator overnight and chop them roughly, if necessary. Canned clams can be used right out of the can.
2) Put the cubed salt pork (or bacon) into a heavy-bottomed stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook until it has begun to get brown and crispy. Add the butter, minced onion and celery and to cook for about 5 minutes or until onions are softened but not browned.
3) If using fresh clams: Add the clams and 1 cup of water to the pot and turn the heat to high. Cover and cook, opening the lid every once in a while to stir the clams, until they begin to open, which should take about 3 minutes. As the clams open, remove them with tongs into to a large bowl, keeping as many juices in the pot as possible and keeping the lid shut as much as possible. After 8 minutes, discard any clams that have not yet begun to open. Roughly chop the clam meat and put it into a separate bowl with any of their juices.
Add the milk and bay leaves to the pot, and add the cubed potatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are very tender and starting to break down. Add salt and pepper to taste.
3) If using canned or thawed clams: Stir the bottled clam juice and the milk and bay leaves into the pot and add the cubed potatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are very tender and starting to break down. Add salt and pepper to taste.
4) Add the chopped clams to the pot. Add the cream if you are using it, bring to a simmer and cook for two or three minutes (one minute for canned clams). Serve immediately. (I like it with a pat of butter melting on the top, but that’s just me.)
NOTE: If you are making the chowder in advance, do not add the clams and the cream until you reheat it for serving.