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New England Clam Chowder

Baby clams in light but full-bodied cream soup with red potatoes, bacon and thyme.

‘Great Sauces Transform Good Food into Gourmet’ 

On the Freedom Trail

My first trip to Boston was a couple of years ago. I spent the day walking the 2.5 mile urban trek known as the Freedom Trail. It meanders along 16 historic sites including museums, meetinghouses, churches and burial grounds.

At the top of the morning the tour guide at the Massachusetts State House explained my favorite anecdote. She informed us about many portraits adorning the walls. While viewing a rare full-length portrait of Abraham Lincoln by Albion Bicknell, she asked if we’d ever heard the expression, ‘that will cost an arm and a leg’. My mom uses that expression.

Our guide continued to explain that back in the day when portrait painters captured likenesses of people on canvas, their fees depended on the size of the piece. But they also charged based on details painted such as hands, arms and legs. Sometimes a portrait depicts the person with one hand behind their back or in a pocket reducing the commission fee. Full-size portraits were very expensive not just for size but because they included legs. Hence the saying, ‘that will cost you an arm and a leg”.

Clam-ChowderBy lunch time I arrived at Quincy Market near Faneuil Hall and wandered along the colonnade through the colorful stalls and carts peddling tasty food, souvenirs and artisan trinkets. My mouth was watering by the time I navigated the bustling market to order my sandwich and cup of New England Clam Chowder. Fabulous lunch!

My friend Marissa and I were recently talking about Clam Chowder which brought back memories of Boston. This light but full-bodied New England style clam chowder is an update from the gloppy recipe of yester-year. A recent renovation, I wanted a lighter soup with plenty of flavor and tender baby clams. Try it on a cold winter evening and it’s delicious enough for entertaining, too.

You might also enjoy Zuppa Toscan, Corn Chowder with Bacon and Broccoli Cheese Soup.

1 of 4 part series ”2013 National Soup Month”. Part 2 Mexican Hat Black Bean Soup, Part 3 Roasted Tomato Bisque and Part 4 French Onion Soup. More on Soup.

2012 AniversaRecipe – Baked Potato with Bacon Soup
2011 AniversaRecipe – Pork Chops with Pink Mushroom Sauce

Recipe: New England Clam Chowder

Prep Time: 7 Minutes | Cook Time: 30 Minutes | Yield: 12 Cups | Level: Easy


  • 5 slices bacon, diced
  • 2 large leeks, thinly sliced, white and light green only
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 4 6.5 oz cans whole or chopped clams
  • 1 8 oz bottle clam juice
  • 4 2” diameter red potatoes, cut in half and sliced in 1/4” half moons
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black peppersliced-red-potatoes
  • 1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/ 4 cup heavy cream
  • salt to taste

Special Equipment – large pot

1 Brown bacon in a large pot until crisp. Remove the bacon fat except 1 tablespoon.

2 Add leeks and celery to the bacon and cook on medium high heat for about 5-6 minutes until soft.
3 Drain the juice from the clams into the pot, reserving the clams. Add the clam juice, potatoes, pepper, thyme and bay leaf. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
4 Stir in clams, milk and cream. Heat through but don’t boil, about 3-5 minutes. Adjust salt if needed.
slice-and-clean-leeksTo clean leeks, slice in half lengthwise then thinly slice each stalk using the white and light green. (Use the dark green for chicken stock.) Place the sliced leeks in a medium bowl of water and rinse them to release the sand and grit. It will sink to the bottom. Take the leek slices out of the water and shake.

Serve clam chowder with some oyster crackers and a crisp salad.

Dish Designer

  • Exchange leeks for scallions or shallots.
  • Exchange fresh thyme for 1 teaspoon of dried thyme.

Inspiration – Saucy Cuisine Kitchen
Cook with Sauces
Written by
Photographs by Helen Horton
Updated: January 21, 2013

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