From America's Test Kitchen Season 4: East Coast Seafood
Good traditional chowder isn’t that hard to make, but it can be daunting for the home cook. The biggest hurdle is a finicky ingredient that most people don’t know how to work with—clams. We wanted to come up with a clam chowder that was economical, could be prepared quickly, and provided a simple method for working with the star ingredient.
We tested a variety of clams and ultimately found that medium-size hard-shell clams guaranteed the most clam flavor. Rather than shucking the raw clams (which can be tedious and time-consuming) and adding them to the pot, we steamed the clams to open them, then used the steaming liquid as our broth. The steamed clams had to be pulled from the pot when they had just opened; allowing them to open completely meant they would overcook quickly when returned to the soup to heat through. We found waxy red potatoes to be the best choice for our creamy chowder; high-starch potatoes, like russets, broke down too much. Bacon made a nice substitute for the traditional salt pork and gave our chowder great smoky flavor. As for the creaminess factor, using a modest amount of heavy cream instead of milk meant that we could use less dairy for a rich, creamy chowder that tasted distinctly of clams.
Serves 6 (about 2 quarts)
During spring and summer, shellfish spawn, leaving them weak, perishable, and off-flavored. Although clams recover from their spawning phase more quickly than mussels and oysters, they should be avoided from late spring through midsummer.