There are three ingredients that make this a very traditional recipe: salt pork, day old biscuits or saltines and milk. The more you substitute the less traditional your chowder will be. Notice that there is no butter or flour to thicken the chowder. If there were, then it would be Cream of Clam Soup, not chowder.
This is a very versatile recipe. I’ve listed some of my favorite variations below the basic recipe.
1/4 pound salt pork, scored or 2 strips of bacon, diced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 large or two small potatoes, diced
1/2 cup Saltines or oyster crackers, crumbled (it’s even better if you have day old biscuits to crumble)
1 8-ounce bottle clam juice
2 10-ounce cans chopped clams (with liquid)
1 can evaporated milk
2 cups water
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Heat a medium sized stockpot on medium high heat. Place the scored salt pork in the pot. Render the pork for several minutes. Add the onions and celery to the pot and cook until translucent. Reduce heat to medium, add the potatoes and crackers, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the clam juice, evaporated milk, water, and fresh pepper. Reduce to low and cook, uncovered, for at least one hour. Add the canned clams and cook another 5 minutes before serving.
A few tips for making the most flavorful chowder:
Once the salt pork is rendered it’s very important to give the onions and the celery time to become translucent. If a little brown develops on the bottom of the pan, even better, just don’t burn it. Brown is good, black is not! This is what makes a flavorful soup.
The same is true when you add the potatoes and the biscuits or Saltines; let the bottom of the pan become a little brown before you add the water and the clam juice.
The reason that you add evaporated milk rather than fresh milk is that fresh milk will curdle – not so pretty or tasty.
It’s important to wait to add the clams (or any fish) until the end. If you don’t you’ll have rubber bands in your chowder rather than clams.
Whole Clam Chowder
Replace the canned clams with 1 pound of clams in the shell
Before starting the chowder, place the clams in cold, salted water and sprinkle them with the cornmeal. Leave the clams to soak while you prepare the broth.
When the broth is ready, rinse the clams and add them to the pot cover, and turn off the heat when the clams open (about 5-10 minutes)