My extended family reunites in the same nook of Long Beach Island, New Jersey every summer—a tradition decades older than I am. We mostly drink wine on the beach but every so often we bike to Bay Village, a waterfront gaggle of restaurants and shops, for sustenance. Peanut butter fudge. Taylor-egg-and-cheese sandwiches. Clam chowder in bread bowls. Battle of the chowders—New England versus Manhattan (even versus Rhode Island, a lesser known, clearer broth)—implies ironclad loyalties. But in a place where most people are on vacation, anything goes. At our favorite chowder hut, Country Kettle Chowda, you can get New England or Manhattan or, if you can’t pick, “Rhode Island Red,” where they ladle half New England, half Manhattan, into your bowl. Blushing pink like a sunburn. Giddily breaking all the rules. Some restaurants in Long Island claim this as “Long Island Clam Chowder.” And I suppose it wouldn’t be chowder if we were all on the same page.
A few recipe notes: I used littleneck clams but use whatever your seafood monger says is freshest. Cherrystone are similar in size. Quahog are affectionately called “chowder clams”—very large and sometimes tough, so be mindful of overcooking. I used a 4-quart, high-sided sauté pan. Whichever vessel you pick, make sure it has a wide diameter so the bacon and vegetables can spread out and have a good time.
Test Kitchen Notes
This recipe is part of Change The Way You Cook, a new series to help anyone (yes, you!) become smarter, faster, and more freewheeling in the kitchen. —The Editors
white wine, plus more for finishing
very thick slices bacon, roughly chopped (about 8 ounces)
medium yellow onion, finely chopped
stalks celery, finely chopped
large yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
Kosher salt, to taste
garlic cloves, minced or microplanes
large Yukon potato (about 10 ounces), diced (about 1/2-inch)
dried bay leaf
14.5-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, pulsed in food processed until chunky
Oyster crackers, bread bowl, or crusty sliced bread for serving
In This Recipe
Combine clams, 3 cups water, and the white wine in a large, high-sided sauté pan or large pot. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Cover and cook for 5 to 10 minutes until the clams have opened. (Toss any that stay closed.) Use a slotted spoon to transfer the clams to a bowl—we’ll come back to them later. Strain the broth through a cheesecloth-lined fine-mesh sieve into another bowl. (The cheesecloth catches any residual sand from the clams. If you don’t have one, no big deal! Just pour very slowly—the sand will linger at the bottom; toss that.)
Set the empty pot back on the stove over medium-high heat. Add the butter. When it’s melted, add the bacon. Cook until the fat has mostly rendered and the meat is starting to color and crisp, about 7 minutes.
Add the onion, celery, and bell pepper. Stir and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom. Season with a big pinch of salt. Sauté until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, remove the clams from their shells. Toss the shells and roughly chop the clams.
When the vegetables are soft, add the garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the flour and stir. Keep stirring as you slowly add the clam broth. (Again, if you don’t have a cheesecloth, just pour very slowly.) Add the potatoes, thyme leaves, and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 12 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and cream. Bring to a simmer and cook for another couple minutes. Season to taste with salt. Add the clams. Just before serving, season to taste with white wine (or vermouth!). Serve with oyster crackers. Or crusty, sliced bread. Or in a bread bowl!
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.