New England Clam Chowder

Recipes by Nancy Johnson | Wine Commentary by Gary Twining

There are many regional variations of clam chowder throughout the United States. Manhattan clam chowder boasts a tomato-based broth. New Jersey chowder is spiced with Old Bay Seasoning. On the west coast, San Francisco serves clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls. This New England version was brought to America by British settlers in the 18th century. While this recipe calls for fresh clams, you can substitute 2 or more cans of clams, drained.

16 littleneck clams, scrubbed

2 cups chicken or vegetable broth, divided

2 slices bacon, chopped

1 onion, finely diced

2 stalks celery, finely diced

1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves

1 pound red potatoes, peeled and diced

3/4 cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet, over medium heat, bring clams and 1 cup broth to a boil. Cover and cook until clams open, about 5 to 7 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer clams to colander, remove from shells, and set aside. Discard shells. Cover a sieve with cheesecloth or a paper towel. Strain liquid remaining in skillet through sieve. Reserve 1 cup.

In Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove, drain on paper towels and set aside. Drain off all but 1 TBS bacon grease from Dutch oven. Add onion and celery. Sauté until softened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add thyme, potatoes, reserved clam liquid and remaining 1 cup broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Remove 1 cup mixture from Dutch oven and puree in food processor. Stir back into chowder. Add heavy cream. Simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Add reserved clams. Season with salt and pepper.  Heat through. Divide among 4 bowls. Garnish with crumbled bacon. Serves 4 as an appetizer.

Gary: With the creamy richness of the soup, look for a white wine with more texture and weight to match. Albarino, Pouilly-Fumé, Viognier and Pinot Gris would be nice pairings. Consider an unoaked Chardonnay/Macon Villages with its crisp acidity and richer texture to bring out the flavors of the soup.

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