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Rhode Island Clam Chowder

by Jane Worthington-Roth

New England is famous for its clam chowder and during the chilly winter months we often see it on restaurant menus. The recipe has been around for a long time and was even mentioned in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

“But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh, sweet friends! Hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt.

Folks in New England are very familiar with the traditional milk-and-cream-based “New England Clam Chowder” and also the tomato-based “Manhattan Clam Chowder”, but relatively few have ever heard of Rhode Island Clam Chowder. The Rhode Island version has a clear broth and is usually made with large quahogs or chopped sea clams. Now, I realize that this might not technically be considered a “chowder” without the milk, but that’s what it has always been called.

When you’re in the mood for a warm, briny soup, you can make up a batch of Rhode Island Clam Chowder in less than a half-an-hour. Curl up with a copy of Moby Dick and transport yourself along with Ishmael to follow Ahab’s quest!

The Third Clam Chowder

4 slices of thick bacon, diced
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
4 ribs celery, strings removed, chopped
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes or Red Bliss potatoes, scrubbed and cut into ½ inch dice (I generally leave the peels on)
6 cups bottled clam juice
2 bay leaves
1½ pounds chopped clams
Salt and pepper, to taste
Chopped fresh chives or parsley, and paprika, for serving

Put the bacon into a large soup pot (7 quart) and cook until just beginning to crisp, stirring frequently. Add in the onions and celery and cook until the onions are soft and translucent.

Add the potatoes, clam broth and bay leaves, and simmer until the potatoes are almost tender, about 15 minutes. Put the chopped clams into the pot and simmer for 10 additional minutes.

Discard the bay leaves and season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, top each serving with some chopped chives or parsley, and a dash of paprika. If you’d like you can offer a helping of traditional “oyster crackers” on the side.