This New England Clam Chowder with Bacon is creamy without being too rich. The bacon adds great smoky flavor! A family favorite. You’ve got to try it!
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 “chowdah” 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)
- 5 cups peeled cubed potatoes (from about 10 medium red potatoes)
- 2 cups chopped onion (from about 1 1/2 large, white or yellow onions)
- 6 slices lean center-cut bacon (cut in half)
- 3 10-ounce cans whole baby clams (drained & rinsed)
- 2 8-ounce bottles clam juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (crushed)
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 cups 1% milk
- 2 cups whipping cream (not heavy)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- red pepper flakes
- Peel potatoes and cut into 1-inch pieces. Peel and chop the onion.
- Cut the bacon in half with scissors. Heat a large pot on the stove on medium high and add the bacon, cooking it until it is crisp. (Wash your hands after touching any raw bacon.) Place the cooked bacon on a paper-towel lined plate.
- In the same pot with the bacon grease (there should be no more than 2 tablespoons), add the clam juice, potatoes, onions, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, thyme and bay leaf. Place the heat on high and bring the liquid to a boil. Then, lower the heat, cover the pot and let it simmer for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. (While the potatoes are cooking, you can blot the bacon and cut it into small pieces. Also, drain and rinse the clams.) The potatoes are done when you can easily stick a fork in one. Using a potato masher, mash some of the potatoes, leaving others in chunks.
- Whisk milk, cream and flour together until smooth (I use my blender container for easy measuring and pouring.) Add the mixture to the pot and stir. Continue stirring, cooking the soup until it's thickened and bubbly. Stir in the clams. When the pot returns to boiling, reduce the heat and let the chowder cook 2 more minutes. Season with red pepper flakes to taste.
- Serve clam chowder in bowls with bacon sprinkled on top and extra red pepper flakes at the table.
Draining and rinsing the clams gets rid of unwanted chemicals and excess sodium. Bottled clam juice has no additives and less salt (check the label.)