Where I live on the Oregon Coast, folks exchange information on where to get a great bowl of clam chowder. The best places are known to locals, and there's often chowder cook-off contests by local chefs and annual seafood festivals.
My Illinois grandmother often made it when I was growing up, as she lived on a river. Part of my summer fun involved diving for river clams so she could make her chowder.
I used her recipe for many years, and it's close to this one, except over the many years living here, I've come to enjoy a creamier, thicker version served at local restaurants. A cook at a local restaurant told me her secret was to use cream instead of milk, a bit of dried dill, and also use a dab of "clam base," which is a bouillon paste often used by chefs.
Many cooks use it as a secret ingredient for extra flavor in seafood sauces or soups. It costs about $5 for jar, but a little goes a long way. I keep my jar in the freezer and it lasts me well over a year or more. It's very concentrated.
Chowder served with crusty white bread, or corn bread is a meal by itself. Most often I serve it with crusty bread and a salad. Some local restaurants serve it in round "bread bowls," or offer it as the soup of the day or an appetizer.
Fresh clams are seasonal here, so most often I use canned chopped clams. By the way, this recipe can be used to make other chowders, too. Just substitute shrimp or other firm fish for a seafood chowder.
Oregon Coast Clam Chowder
4-6 slices chopped bacon
1 diced onion
3, 6 oz. cans chopped clams with juice
5 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed, about a 1/2 inch in size
4 Tabs. flour, or more
salt and pepper
3 tsps. dried parsley
4 cups whole milk, half and half, or cream
1-1/2 cups water
1 tsp. clam base (optional)
2 Tabs. of butter
Garnishes: Paprika, chopped chives, or dried dill and/or a dollop of butter
In a large pot, brown chopped bacon until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove bacon from the pan and set aside. In the bacon grease, saute onions with a pinch of salt and cook until soft. In a small cup mix water into the flour until well blended, then add mixture and potatoes to the onions. Cook for about 10-12 minutes until the potatoes start to soften and mixture thickens. Season potatoes with salt, pepper and parsley.
Add cooked bacon, milk or cream, clams and juice, butter, and clam base. Simmer on medium high but do not boil. Turn heat down and cover with a lid. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until potatoes are softened. If too thick, add more water or cream and if not thick enough mix a little more flour with water and add to mixture, stir and heat until it thickens more.
Pour into bowls and serve with a dollop of butter and/or sprinkle of paprika, chopped chives or dried dill. Serves 8.
Estimated cost: $6.00 or less; .75 cents a serving or less.