The World’s Best Clam Chowder by (2 Stories)

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My ex-wife, from Brockton, MA, learned how to make New England Clam Chowder in Home Ec class in junior high school. She brought the recipe along when we got married, and I, and later our daughters, loved it. It’s made without any “fillers,” relying instead on lots of clams and potatoes for thickness. The “secret” ingredient is bacon, which is fried in the soup pot to provide the fat to sauté the onions.

The world's best clam chowder

When we were divorced, I found the recipe, which was actually an article cut-out of the Boston Globe from the 1940’s, entitled “Boston Clam Chowder.” I made a copy, so was able to make it ever since.

Fast forward to 2008, and I’m now married again. My new wife and I had started a new tradition to have Christmas dinner with just us and our kids, as a family bonding exercise. That year, a “gut” kitchen remodeling had gone over schedule – surprise! We had placed a couple of the old cabinets in the garage with plywood “countertops,’ and cooked for months with a microwave oven and a two-burner camp stove, lasting into the holidays. We were faced with the quandary of what to cook for Christmas dinner. We figured that we could boil water in a very large pot on the two burners, and thus came to the idea of making steamed lobster. The natural accompaniment was my clam chowder. It actually worked out amazingly well, and my wife’s kids loved the chowder. In fact, when soliciting inputs for the next Christmas dinner, there was a universal chorus of ‘got to have the chowder’! As a side benefit, my wife adored the menu, as it eliminated the ‘all day in the kitchen’ turkey and fixings labor, so she could relax and join in the fun. (Especially as guess who was now cooking?!) Now we have seven grandchildren getting hooked on the chowder, as well. Last year, our 8-year-old granddaughter had three bowls, and was too stuffed to eat anything else but her lobster. I think she was sly like a fox!

The absolute best version of the chowder was prepared aboard our sailboat moored in Great Harbor, Block Island, a few years ago. A couple of the sailors we were cruising with went clamming and brought back a bucket of extremely fresh quahogs. We added them to the standard chowder recipe; the raving as we ate in the cockpit at sunset was non-stop. I was inundated with recipe requests!

Here’s the recipe, as it was published in the paper and any copyright must be long-expired. Besides, I did make a few modifications for clarity, based on experience.

Enjoy!

Joe’s Clam Chowder

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Comments

  1. Suzy says:

    Yum, I love Boston clam chowder, although I always heard it called New England clam chowder for some reason. Delicious, whatever the name. How great that you were able to make it even in your makeshift kitchen in the garage. And that it became a family tradition. Amazing that your 8-year-old granddaughter had 3 bowls of it and still had room for lobster!

    Thanks for the recipe. This is one that I actually think I will try, although I will have to find a non-dairy substitute for the heavy cream, or just omit it. The link you made works fine, and (for future reference) another way to do it would be to take a picture of the recipe and post it using the “Add Media” button.

  2. Marian says:

    I’m so glad that the chowder was and is a success for you, Joe. Nothing like fresh ingredients. I can’t tolerate dairy, so I’ve always stuck to the Manhattan version (I know, I know, that’s not real clam chowder). But it’s great that your entire family enjoys this delectable dish.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    Great story, Joe! And thanks for even sharing the recipe — which, dare I say, not all of our Retro writers have been so anxious to do.

    And the recipe looks yummy indeed. That said, I assume that you are aware of all the Great Chowder Controversies. For example, I know that it is made differently in Rhode Island than Massachusetts, but I forget what the differences are. And then there is Manhattan Clam Chowder, which some — myself included — would argue is not even chowder at all; it is just vegetable soup with clams thrown in.

    And speaking of the joys of eating chowder on board a ship, a literary aside. In my opinion, the single best chapter of the many in “Moby Dick” is the one describing the chowder.

  4. Great read Joe!
    Clam chowder is not something I’d eat in my kosher home, but I confess I’ve loved it, especially at a lovely waterfront restaurant on Martha’s Vineyard where we vacationed for many summers when our son was a child

    Going back to the Vineyard in recent years we were delighted to find the restauranr still in business, but alas the chowder was not the same, certainly not as we remembered

    It may have been a new chef or a new recipe, but I think it was just us remembering those wonderful family vacations when everything was especially grand!

  5. Risa Nye says:

    Joe, I loved reading about the make-shift kitchen producing a lasting memory and inspiration. I also like breaking with tradition which ends up starting a new tradition, and there you are. Also love clam chowder and probably had some of those clams when my family spent a week on Block Island several years ago.

  6. Betsy Pfau says:

    Well I’m still here in Greater Boston and will head to Martha’s Vineyard for the summer in a few weeks (nothing much is open yet due to COVID lockdowns), so I know something about Clam Chowder (that Manhattan stuff doesn’t count) and yours sounds YUMMY! So great that you were able to make it in your garage and it has now become a Christmas tradition. I love that. I agree…add in the boiled lobster and it is much easier than turkey and all the fixings. Thanks for sharing the Globe’s (and your) old recipe.

  7. I love this, Joe (Happen to love clam chowder, too, even That Other Version). But I especially enjoyed the Block Island angle. What better place! One of my favorite spots ever.

  8. Laurie Levy says:

    Thanks for the recipe, Joe, and for your wonderful story about traditions, both for Christmas and New England. Our sons has been living in the Boston area since his college days, and his family would love this recipe. Clam chowder is great there, but not so wonderful where I live (Chicago).

  9. Clam chowder without fillers…wouldn’t have it any other way — I’m a snob that way. Thanks for a great story, Joe, and what looks like a great recipe, and you even included a shopping list. I will definitely be making this one! Right now it sounds like the perfect comfort food, with cream, although it’s nice to know I can omit it.

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