I always feel a bit nostalgic when I make this New England clam chowder with bacon. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of summer vacations in the ’70s, when we’d pack up our (huge) car and drive all the way to Florida or South Carolina from Northeast Ohio. We’d stay in places like Fort Lauderdale, Miami or Myrtle Beach, where my brother and I played in the pool all day, with intermittent forays to the beach to build sandcastles or ride the waves on our raft. In the evening, we’d go out to dinner, usually to a seafood restaurant. I always ordered the clam chowder to start, but, being the carnivore I was, I’d follow it with prime rib or steak. (And then top the meal off with dessert, of course.)
For many years, I only ate clam chowder in restaurants. Then Mom started making it when I was older, perhaps feeling nostalgic for our family vacations too. And once I married an actual New Englander (my husband is from Connecticut), it became a mandatory tradition around here for me to make New England clam chowder with bacon a few times a year.
My version of this white and creamy “chowda” is not too heavy. I do include some cream for texture, but mostly use 1% milk. And the bacon I use is the center-cut kind without too much fat. It’s there to provide an accent of smoky flavor (and serves as a nice garnish), but the soup would still be delicious without it. We love our chowder this lightened up way and don’t miss a thing, because it still has enough richness to make us feel like we’re indulging ourselves.
With the whole baby clams, onions and chunks of potatoes, the chowder is a meal in itself (but nice with a salad on the side) and I like to make enough for two dinners. The soup is thicker on the second day and just as flavorful.
Nowadays, I only have New England clam chowder at home. The restaurant versions would be way too rich for my taste. Besides, when I eat out, I’d rather save decadence for dessert. I’ve got my priorities!
(Recipe Source: Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, 1989)