Today is National New England Clam Chowder Day! The beloved dish of the Northeast may come in thick or thin forms, in a cup or a bread bowl, but the creamy stew of bivalves, potatoes, and cream should never include tomatoes. In fact, the state of Maine outlawed adding the red fruit to clam chowder in 1939. This version is smoky and anise scented with the addition of bacon, fennel, and tarragon.
By the way, it’s also National Hugging Day so serve your loved ones a big bowl – bread or not – and give them a tight squeeze.
Smoky Clam Chowder
5 to 6 rashers of thin-cut hickory smoked bacon, cut crosswise into thin strips then roughly chopped
1 medium onion, cut into brunoise dice
1 small fennel bulb, cut into brunoise dice
2 stalks celery, cut into brunoise dice
1½ teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves (about 4 sprigs)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons flour
4 to 6 dashes Tabasco® hot sauce
1 cup white wine
2 cups bottled clam juice, divided
3 cups light cream
1 large or 2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, cut into medium dice
3 bay leaves
2 pints chopped clams in clam juice
1 teaspoon minced tarragon
Place the chopped bacon into a large soup pot and set it over medium-low heat. Render out the bacon fat for 15 minutes – the bacon will not be crisp. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes more if you desire a harder texture.
Add the diced onion, fennel, and celery to the pot with the bacon and sweat the vegetables until soft and translucent, about 10 to 12 minutes. Sprinkle the vegetable mixture with minced thyme leaves, salt, black pepper and flour; stir and cook for 1 minute. Add the Tabasco® hot sauce, then whisk in the white wine and cook this mixture until wine reduces by half. Whisk in 1 cup of clam juice – the mixture will become very thick. Remove the pot from the heat and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining clam juice with the light cream, diced potatoes, and bay leaves. Set the pot over medium heat and bring this cream mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes. Slowly add the cream and potato mixture into the pot with the vegetables, stirring constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Place the pot over medium-low heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the chopped clams and minced tarragon and cook for 2 minutes or until the clams are just cooked through.