the life and times of J T Frey

New England-Style Clam Chowder

When I was an undergraduate at Lebanon Valley College I worked for the school's computer services unit. Every now and then the entire group would head to lunch at nearby Harper's Tavern. The lunch special typically consisted of soup or salad and one of their sandwiches. I'll never forget my first visit because of the soup: a clam chowder in the New England style. This wasn't the from-a-can thick and creamy with little clam bits version that I was used to at the time, though. The broth was not as heavy, had a definitive herbal quality that melded perfectly with the briny clam flavor, and had chunks of celery and hard boiled egg amongst the usual potatoes. But of most note, it had clams: I'm talking whole clams, here.

Later in life, on an episode of "Emeril Live!" the noted chef made a true New England version from scratch, stressing (in his usual way) the importance of pork to the recipe. No clam chowder is done right unless it starts with rendered salted pork as the basis for the roux.

These two experiences form the basis for my New England-style clam chowder.


Clams and clam broth

  • 50 live middleneck clams
  • 1 quart of water


  • ½ lb salt pork, diced
  • 2 medium onions, finely diced
  • 4 stalks celery, finely diced
  • ½ cup flour
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 cans chopped clams, drained and rinsed (optional)
  • 3 medium potatoes, cut into ¾ inch cubes and parboiled
  • 3 eggs, hard boiled and chopped
  • 2 pints heavy creme (at room temperature)

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Preparation time: 1 hour

Cooking time: active, 1 hour; total, 2+ hours

Clam preparation — you'll need a large pot and a steamer basket that fits just inside it

  1. Soak the clams in cool water for at least 20 minutes (this should help to remove sand from inside the shells)
  2. Bring 1/3 of the quart of water to a boil in a large pot
  3. Scrub 1/3 of the clams, discarding any that are dead (shell won't close, etc.); place on the steamer basket
  4. Insert the steamer basket into the pot and put a lid on the pot
  5. Watch to ensure the pot does not boil over; remove clams as they open
  6. Remove clams from opened shells into a covered bowl; pour the liquid from the pot into a container (at least 1 quart in size). I use a Bell jar with a coffee filter in a funnel, to ensure no sand makes it into the soup.
  7. Repeat from step 2 for the remaining two batches of clams

From the 50 purchased I usually end up having about 36 clams to add to the soup — freshly-steamed clams are irresistable to me. At this point the containers with the clams and clam juice can be sealed and refrigerated for up to 1 day. If shy of 1 quart, commercial clam juice can be used (I prefer brands with minimal to no preservatives added).

  1. Place the salt pork in a stock pot over medium-low heat. Once the majority of the fat has rendered, remove the solids and allow them to cool.
  2. Add the onion and celery to the rendered fat and allow to soften, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the flour and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occassionally, to create a roux.
  4. Add the clam juice and additional 2 cups of water, then raise to medium heat. Stir well to dissolve the roux.
  5. Wrap the thyme and bay in cheese cloth and add to the broth. Simmer for at least 30 minutes.
  6. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add the potatoes, hard-boiled egg, canned chopped clams (if desired), and heavy creme. Stir well and continue to simmer until service.
  7. Remove the cheesecloth bundle of herbs before serving.

Since the whole clams were already steamed, cooking them in the soup will only toughen them. Instead, I like to serve the soup by placing a few whole clams in the bottom of the bowl and ladeling the soup over them. The hot soup will warm the cold whole clams without cooking them further.

The solid bits of salt pork that remain after rendering the fat can be minced and used as a garnish. They also work nicely as bacon bits on a salad — so don't throw them away!

Written by Jeff Frey on Friday January 27, 2017
Permalink -