Few foods are more iconic than New England Clam chowder. Potatoes are, theoretically, integral to the flavor and texture of this favorite.
I actually have a sense memory from years and years ago, of a spoonful of clam chowder. I don’t recall the silky, milky texture. I don’t recall the chewy, flavorful nugget of clam. It’s the potato I remember so vividly, perfectly cooked.
So I was surprised to discover just how well parsnip fills the potato hole in chowder. (If making a larger batch I would supplement with rutabaga.)
This being chowder, you can of course supplement this recipe with a few strips of bacon. I decided to go without to give the chowder elements more room to breathe. (Yes, bacon feels like cheating.) But the Bacon Rules are at the end of the recipe, and the soup most definitely won’t suffer.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 celery ribs chopped (at least 1/2 cup)
- 1 leek finely chopped (at least 3/4 cup)
- 1 onion finely chopped (at least 3/4 cup)
- 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
- parsnip or rutabaga (enough to make a heaping cup when diced)
- 1 cup broth, chicken or vegetable
- 1 8 ounce bottle clam juice
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups half-and-half, divided
- 1-2 6-1/2 ounce cans of whole clams, chopped and drained (depending on where your live and the time of year, your fish vendor may also have flash frozen or even fresh clam meat available)
- bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley (1 teaspoon dry)
- chopped fresh chives or green onions for garnish
1In a heavy-bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven melt the butter, then sauté the celery, leek, and onion until tender.
2Meanwhile, put a small saucepan of water on to boil. When it’s boiling, drop the diced parsnip or rutabaga in for a quick parboil. If using both parsnip and rutabaga you can use the same water, but parboil the parsnip first. The goal is to reduce the astringent notes of these root vegetables.
3Add garlic to the celery, leek, and onion, and sauté for a couple more minutes, watching closely that the pan is not so hot as to burn the garlic.
4Drain the parboiling root vegetables—don’t save the water, at least not for this recipe—and add them to the sauté. Cook for another few minutes, again watching closely.
5Add the broth, clam juice, the bay leaf, pepper and thyme. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes or until the root vegetables are tender.
6In a small bowl whisk the flour into 1 cup of the half-and-half. The resulting texture should be lump-free. Reduce heat to a simmer and gradually stir into the soup. Bring back to a simmer; cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until thickened.
7Reduce heat and stir in the clams and remaining half-and-half. Heat through for no more than 5 minutes, then put onto the lowest heat. Be careful not to boil.
BACON RULES: At the beginning, crisp 6 strips of bacon, preferably in the pot you’ll be using to construct the soup. Remove the bacon, and pour off excess fat, leaving a generous sheen in the pan. Add the butter and begin the recipe. At step 5, crumble the bacon and add two thirds to the soup. Use the remaining bacon crumble for garnish.