All New Englanders, love one of the first regional foods. Clam chowder! We don't remember when we first tasted this comforting soup full of tender mollusks. But we do know clam "chowda" is for every person born within a 100-mile radius of Boston. Or anyone else who enjoys a hearty seafood twist. To us, clam chowder is always a cream-based wonder, briny with clam liquor, smoky with bacon, and containing, ideally, a high ratio of fresh clams to potato chunks.
10 lb. clams in the shell, preferably cherrystone, scrubbed
4 oz. thick-cut bacon, finely chopped
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tbsp. finely chopped thyme leaves
2 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
2½ lb. new potatoes, cut into ¼" cubes
2 cups heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Oyster crackers and hot sauce, for serving
1. Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a 6-qt. saucepan over high heat. Add clams, and cover pan; cook until clams are steamed open, about 10 minutes (discard any that do not open). Remove from heat, and let cool. Remove clam meat from shells, and roughly chop; set aside. Pour cooking liquid from pan through a fine strainer into another bowl (you should have about 6 cups; if not, add enough water to make 6 cups); set aside.
2. Heat bacon in a 6-qt. saucepan over medium heat, and cook, stirring, until its fat renders and bacon is crisp, about 10 minutes. Add butter, thyme, onions, and bay leaves, and cook, stirring,
until soft, about 8 minutes. Add reserved cooking liquid and potatoes, and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring, until potatoes are cooked through, about 20 minutes. Add
chopped clam meat and cream; cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; serve with crackers and hot sauce on the side.