No-Cream Boston Clam Chowder

10 Sep

(serves 6)
Boston Clam Chowder is a clam chowder of the white variety that is popular in the New England area. Its basic ingredients are pretty standard, but it is precisely the combination of clams, bacon, onions, potatoes that makes the Boston Clam Chowder such a favourite. Its perfect for cold weather, or just anytime you hunger for a hearty soup. Once you know the secret to thickenining a chowder properly, whipping up a batch is not all that difficult.

Clarification – just because there is no cream doesn’t mean this is a healthy recipe.


  1. Bottled Clams (2 x 250ml)
  2. Smoked Clams (1 flat tin)
  3. Onion (1)
  4. Fennel (equivalent of 1 onion)
  5. Bacon (6 slices)
  6. Potato (2)
  7. Milk (1 cup)
  8. Butter (50g)
  9. Flour
  10. Sage
  11. Thyme
  12. Cognac  


  1. Julienne the onion and fennel into small bits. For this part you only need the fennel bulb, but you can save the leafy bits (some people call it the frond?) for garnishing.
  2. Cut the bacon into small squares; the bacon will be easier to handle if it is stacked and semi frozen.
  3. Peel and dice one potato into small bits that will disintegrate after some simmering. This will make the chowder thicker. Cut the second one into larger cubes that will remain intact.
  4. Fry the bacon bits in a pan on low heat to melt its fat. When the bacon is beginning to crisp nicely, add the onion and fennel and stir fry till they begin to caramelize. Turn up the heat and add the clams, including their brine.
  5. Pour everything into a soup pot. Add the potato and 2 cups of water. Set to a low simmer.
  6. Dry the pan with some kitchen towels and melt 50g of butter in it on a low flame. When the butter has melted, sprinkle in 2T of flour and stir fry till the flour begins to darken. Next, pour in 1 cup of milk very slowly, stirring vigourously the entire time to flatten lumps.
  7. After a while, you will end up with a thick white sauce. Add the tin of smoked clams to the sauce, including all the oil. Stir in some of the soup into the white sauce till it gets watery, then pour everything back into the soup pot.
  8. Add 1t thyme and 1t sage to the pot and simmer for 2 hours. You’ll need to stir occasionally to prevent bits from sticking to the bottom. Add hot water to bring the soup back to the right consistency as needed. At the end, a piece of bread should be able to stand (not just float) on the chowder. With 5 minutes to go, add 2T of brandy.
  9. Season only after the simmering is done. Taste first before adding salt. Depending on how salty the clam brine was, you may (or may not) need to add a pork / vegetable bullion cube. On the soup plate itself, garnish with black pepper and fennel leaves, plus some chopped parsley if you like.


  • Use only the bottled variety of clams. Any food canned with brine will acquire a metallic taste and thus clams in a can are a no,no. The smoked clams are in oil, so the ‘can rule’ doesn’t apply.
  • If you have the good fortune to be using fresh clams, all the better. Soak your clams in cold water to get them to extrude sand, and then quickly cook in boiling water for a minute. Use the boiling liquid in the soup as per the brine mentioned above but add the clams (after shelling) only at the very end – so the meat remains tender.
  • If you don’t want to use or can’t find fennel, substitute with celery.
  • The white sauce is an essential step so don’t think you can skip it. The flour will soak up the oil from the bacon and smoked clams. Otherwise, you may end up with droplets of oil floating on the surface.
  • How come some restaurant’s clam chowder is so much whitee? They use milk in step 5. 
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Posted by on September 10, 2012 in Recipe, Seafood, Soups


Tags: , , , , ,

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