Home > Food, Provenance > As happy as a clam in a pot of chowder!

As happy as a clam in a pot of chowder!

Preparation Time: 60 minutes Cooking Time: 45 minutes Yield: 4-6

Yummy New England Clam Chowder

“It’s not easy to get hold of big clams,” said Claudio. I was chatting to Claudio Paioni, co-owner of Seafood on Sail, during a recent visit in search of some good fresh fish. In the course of conversation, Claudio noted that he had acquired a stock of good quality clams, in shells and they were quite large. “These come from Moçambique, and they’re really nice,” said Claudio.

“Well, now you mention it, I was planning to do a clam chowder,” I said hopefully. “Take a kilo and see what you can do with them,” said Claudio thrusting a package into my outstretched hand. I left with a kilogram of frozen clams and about the same weight in fresh Gurnard fillets (more about them in the near future) clutched to my chest, humbled as always by Claudio’s generosity.

Clam chowder appears to have originated in the north eastern United States, with such variations as New England, Rhode Island and Manhattan Clam Chowder being particularly common. Variations have emerged in the southern states, in particular North Carolina, and San Francisco, where it is usually served in a sourdough bread bowl.

My recipe uses a number of the common ingredients, but rather than cream or milk, I chose to use crème fraiche, and oh what a wonderful decision.

Ingredients, Selection and preparation

150g lean bacon: back bacon or shoulder bacon is the best, since it has little or no fat. Cut it into strips no more than five mm wide.

2 medium onions: Plain ordinary white onions are what you want. Red onions will give the wrong colour, and shallots will impart a flavour which will overpower the delicate flavour of the clams. Peel and chop the onions finely.

350ml fish stock: most of us do not have fish stock sitting waiting in the deepfreeze, so you may use chicken stock as a substitute, but if you want to make fish stock, collect a fish head and trimmings from your fish monger, rinse well, and put into a stock pot with a sliced carrot, onion, celery stick, and a bay leaf. Cover with water, bring to the boil then simmer for no more than 45 minutes, or it will become bitter. Strain 350 ml of the stock into a mixing bowl and set aside. You may want to freeze the rest of the stock, but remember that you must use it within four months.

3 medium potatoes: peel and dice the potatoes, no more than ½ cm in size. Soak in water to prevent from blackening, and to leech out some of the starch.

1 kg frozen (or fresh) clams: fresh is best, but frozen is the next best thing. If frozen, soak in cold water for about an hour before you are to cook them. Change the water about every fifteen minutes. This helps to out wash the sand in the clams. If you can’t get whole clams in the shell, substitute a half kilogram of clam meat. If fresh, scrub the clams well under cold running water. Any which are open, which do not close when tapped, should be discarded.

250ml crème fraiche: is ideal for this recipe. Do not replace with cream or milk, it’s just not the same. You can make your own crème fraiche as follows: 750ml double cream, 250 ml buttermilk and 2 ½ tbsp fresh lemon juice. Combine and heat to 30º in a saucepan then pour into a mixing bowl, cover with cling wrap, and set aside in a warm place to culture for 12 to 24 hours. Keeps for up to ten days in the refrigerator.

sprig of thyme, leaves picked

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/2tsp smoked paprika

Paprika for seasoning


Set a large saucepan on the stove with about 1.5cm of water to boil.

Heat a tbsp of canola oil in a soup pot, and fry the bacon over a high heat for about 3 or 4 minutes.

Add the onions and smoked paprika. Turn down the heat to medium and sautè until the onion and bacon is nicely browned and the pot is deglazed.

Add the fish stock, the diced potato and the thyme, bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer covered for fifteen minutes or until the potato has cooked soft.

Your water should be boiling by now. Toss in the clams, and put on the lid. Boil, for about five minutes, shaking briskly every minute or so, until all of the clams have opened, then remove from the heat. If you’re using fresh clams, discard any that have not opened. Apparently, if you’re using frozen clams, this rule does not apply.

Remove the clams and shuck them, tossing the shells back into the clam liquid. Boil the cooking liquid down to about 1/3rd of its original volume, but no more than 250ml. Strain through a fine sieve or muslin, and set aside.

By now the potato should have cooked soft, so add the clams, the 250ml clam cooking liquid and the crème fraiche. Heat through for a couple of minutes only. Any longer and the clams will toughen.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in soup bowls, sprinkled with paprika. Lovely hot breads make a tasty accompaniment.


  1. July 31, 2012 at 11:21 am

    I have to try this, especially as the weather is due to turn cold again!

    • Norman McFarlane
      August 2, 2012 at 11:19 am

      Hi Alison, It really is a lovely recipe, and I make it quite often, as my daughter Alex (who works at Mulderbosch as an assistant winemaker) loves it. If ever she’s coming home for the weekend, and I ask her what she’d like for dinner, clam chowder is a frequent request. I also did a version using white sand mussel, which if you have a license and are prepared to go and collect them, make a great alternative to clams, which are not that easy to come by. Best regards, Norman

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