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Nov 23, 2010 07:44 AM

What's the secret to an amazing New England Clam Chowder?

At least, what's *your* secret to an amazing New England Clam Chowder?

Do tell.

Thanks, anticipatorily.

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  1. Salt pork
    Boiling potatoes
    Amazing New England clams with their juice
    Whole milk, no cream
    Salt and pepper

    2 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit

        The cream addition (and the creamy, thick texture) is something that restaurants began, because it makes the chowder more stable when it needs to be kept warm for a long time waiting for service. Many people who have never had the real thing homemade become accustomed to this style.

        The problem is, the cream coats your tastebuds and makes the clam flavor essentially disappear.

        What I described above is the clam chowder made by home cooks in my family when I was growing up in New England (Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire). It's also the style included in the original Fannie Merritt Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook. You can find the 1918 recipe here very close to the end of the chapter.

    1. Rick Moonen's chowder is superb. It's almost more of a stew than a soup. Here's a recipe I found online

      but this recipe doesn't tell you what I think is the real reason this soup is so much better than others I've tried. At the point where this recipe tells you to allow the soup to rest for 20 minutes, the original recommends that if you can you should refrigerate it overnight at this point. And I must say, that overnight refrigeration really does intensify the clammy flavor

      2 Replies
      1. re: JoanN

        I think most soups can benefit from overnight refrigeration (or a rest period of some time).

        1. re: ipsedixit

          And stews, and braises . . . . Even I usually benefit from a rest period of some time.

      2. Combine whole milk with evaporated milk. Makes it very silky!

        1 Reply
          1. Good chowdah has to have fresh raw shucked clams, chopped, and the little crunchy rendered bits of salt pork for garnish.

            Render diced salt pork, remove from pot, sweat diced onions in fat, simmer waxy potatoes in clam juice and water as needed to cover, when tender add clams, milk or cream or combo, shut off gas, let rest for 20 minutes, adjust seasoning, serve with salt pork crackings for topping the chowdah. No herbs, no wine, no celery, no flour or thickening of any kind, please. Oyster crackers on the side.

            7 Replies
            1. re: bushwickgirl

              You must mean common crackers! (- ;

              1. re: chefj

                No, I mean oyster crackers. There is a distinct difference between the two crackers. It's oyster crackers for soup in most of New England. You get a package of oyster crackers with your diner chowder in MA, CT, ME and RI. Vermont Common Crackers are a trademarked name and a Vermont tradition. Being from Connecticut, I wouldn't think of putting common crackers in my chowder but Vermonters might. I don't know how popular clam chowder is in Vermont, btw, as opposed to say, Rhode Island. I think of common crackers more for accompanying good sharp VT cheddar or homemade jam, my personal favorite way to consume them.

                I've found that the names for these crackers, along with the usage, are sometimes interchangeable, the more generic traditional term for this type of cracker is common cracker. See Euonymous' link above, where The Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook refers to the crackers used in it's soup recipes as "common" in 1918. Both types of crackers were invented in the early1800's. Oyster crackers definitely win in widespread popularity now, though.

                Common and oyster crackers have a different appearance and slightly different texture, the common cracker is round and is about an 1 1/2" in diameter, while oyster crackers are smaller and look like a hexagonal oyster shell. The flavor is somewhat similar, they're both bland crackers with a saltine-like flavor. Both crackers can be split and/or crumbled and are used for stuffings or breading as well as soup toppers.

                1. re: bushwickgirl

                  I am not talking about the Vermont Common Cracker that are trade marked.
                  I am talking about the real common crackers that you make at home and are not made from crushed crackers.Common crackers predate the Oyster Cracker by 100 years or so and the original oyster crackers where much more like common crackers than the mass produced hexagon puff balls that Nabisco sells.
                  In my opinion common crackers are too thick and heavy for eating as an accompaniment to cheese but are the perfect foil / sponge for chowder. My x mother-in- law and clan( old N.H. Yankees) always made common crackers with chowder.
                  They were mentioned with a smiley wink (- ; because I knew that you had not misspoke, I just though I would mention an alternative.

                  1. re: chefj

                    Both common and oyster crackers appeared on the commercial market around 1828. I'm sure people were making crackers at home, and what was known as common, long before that in New England.

              2. re: bushwickgirl

                Some of us don't have access to fresh clams (unfortunately). So, would canned clams work? If so, how much? (and there is very few clams in a can - per se). I absolutely love clam chowder, but it is something I have never made and test out at restaurants everywhere.

                1. re: boyzoma

                  Can you find frozen chopped clams? Those are a resonable substitute for fresh, let them defrost first. Canned clams are my third choice.

                  1. re: bushwickgirl

                    +1 Frozen is definitely preferable to canned.Asian stores are a good bet for finding frozen chopped or whole baby clams. They are usually packed with a good amount of juice as well.