New England Clam Chowder

Contributed by Susan Jewett, retired collection manager in the Division of Fishes at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum. The clam chowder recipe is from her late mother, Betty Jewett.

2 to 4 depending on whether one treats it as dinner or a soup course in a dinner.

Cook's Strategy
This chowder is best if made a day ahead and allowed to sit. Stop cooking after the last additions, cool and refrigerate and reheat the next day. Also it is best with a good portion of half and half. Don't use skim or low-fat milk because it is too thin.

1/2- to 1-inch cube of salt pork (or a couple of strips of bacon), diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/2 cups clam juice (drained from cans or fresh clams) and water, combined
1 bay leaf
1 large potato, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 or more cups of milk, half and half, or mixture of both
1 tablespoon butter
2 6-ounce cans clams, minced (or use chopped fresh quahog clams, about 2 cups)

In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, render the salt pork (or bacon). Remove and drain salt pork (or bacon), then break into bits and reserve. Pour off all but a tablespoon or so of grease.

Sauté onion for several minutes at medium-low heat. Add flour and stir for a minute or so. Add clam juice/water mixture, bay leaf, and potato cubes. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add salt pork (or bacon), milk, butter, and clams. Heat to just before simmer and serve.

My Mom used to go dig her own clams (in Three Mile Harbor salt marshes, East Hampton, NY) using the method of the locals -- called the "Bonac shuffle" -- wiggling her feet in the mud until she felt the clams with her toes. I use this method now. "Bonac" is short for a name used by and for the local people ... "Bonackers" ... a derivation of a native American name for an area of East Hampton which is now called Accabonac. Bonackers are generally considered to be locals that can trace their roots many generations back in E. H. (I know one fisherman whose family goes back 7 generations in the town), and they are usually fishermen, clammers or a combination thereof. The clams were plentiful in these waters when I was growing up, as were bay scallops. Clams are still plentiful now but only because the town Natural Resources Department seeds the beds. Scallops, unfortunately, are very hard to find anymore, largely due to the loss of eelgrass.