New England Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder

From Cook’s Illustrated. Published March 1, 1998.

Serves 6 (about 2 quarts).

During spring and summer, shellfish spawn, leaving them weak, perishable, and off-flavored. Although clams recover from their spawning phase more quickly than mussels and oysters, they should be avoided from late spring through midsummer.


7 pounds medium-size hard-shell clams , such as littleneck, topneck, or small cherrystone, washed and scrubbed clean
4 slices thick-cut bacon (about 4 ounces), cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large Spanish onion , diced medium (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
3 medium boiling potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), scrubbed and diced medium
1 large bay leaf
1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
Table salt and ground black pepper


  1. Bring clams and 3 cups water to boil in large, covered soup kettle. Following illustration 1, below, steam until clams just open, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer clams to large bowl; cool slightly. Following illustrations 2 and 3, remove clams from shells by opening clams with a paring knife while holding over a bowl to catch juices. Next, sever the muscle from under the clam and remove it from the shell. Reserve meat in bowl and discarding shells. Mince clams; set aside. Pour clam broth into 2-quart Pyrex measuring cup, holding back last few tablespoons broth in case of sediment; set clam broth aside. (Should have about 5 cups.) Rinse and dry kettle; return to burner.

  2. Fry bacon in kettle over medium-low heat until fat renders and bacon crisps, 5 to 7 minutes. Add onion to bacon; sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add flour; stir until lightly colored, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in reserved clam juice. Add potatoes, bay leaf, and thyme; simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Add clams, cream, parsley, and salt (if necessary) and ground pepper to taste; bring to simmer. Remove from heat and serve.


Preparing the Steamed Clams

  1. Steam clams until just open, at right, rather than completely open, as shown at left.

  2. Open clams with a paring knife, holding over a bowl to catch juices.

  3. Sever the muscle under the clam and remove it from the shell.