My Great Grandmother’s Clam Chowder

What’s better than your GREAT grandmother’s clam chowder recipe on a cold, rainy day?


Since it’s been raining and snowing here for a week, virtually non-stop but for a single day’s let up, and promises to continue for another week (It’s close to flooding levels in Reno, Nevada—my hometown—over the hill), I thought it was time for a pot of clam chowder.

Sorry, no picture. You know what the New England version looks like.

I have a lifelong love of clam chowder and am of the opinion that roughly, there’s almost no such thing as a bad one, just that some are way better than others. My chief complaints are: 1) a ridiculous potatoes to clam ratio (clam-flavored potato soup with clam bits), and 2) too thick; or worse, wallpaper paste.

So I made it in under an hour today—having sourced ingredients this morning—right before Beatrice headed back to her place in Bay Area for the week of work, leaving me with the dogs (we fight over who gets them during the week).

Dogs? Did you say dogs?

Dogs? Did you say dogs?

Here’s how it goes, my mod version. The recipe calls for 1/2 C of rendered salt pork (or bacon), but I don’t want that flavor (that goes in potato soup). It also calls for H & H, but I use whole milk for a slightly soupier consistency and less fat, too.

There are many, many NECC recipes and they are more similar than different. I think what sets this one a bit apart is the heavy amount of clam juice.

  • 1 C chopped onion (tiny cubes)
  • 1 C chopped celery (tiny cubes)
  • 1 C cubed raw potato (tiny cubes)
  • 1/2 C fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp each of garlic powder, salt, and pepper (more added to taste, later)
  • 4 C clam juice
  • 2 C baby clams or chopped clams, drained (4- 6.5 oz cans work)
  • 2 TBS butter
  • 3 TBS flour
  • 3 C whole milk
  • Drizzle of cooking oil

Get your clam juice in the main cooking pot and get it boiling and reducing to intensify clamish flavor. Reduce by 1/3-ish. At the same time, drizzle cooking oil (you would use the pork fat if included; I use EVOO since it’s not) in a pan and sauté your onions and celery for about 5 minutes or so on med-H. Add those to the clam juice reduction, along with the potatoes and parsley (a half handful of chopped white ends of a bunch of green onions adds a nice touch). Add the seasonings too.

Reduce heat to med-L and let them simmer 20 min as you make a roux of the butter and flour, and slowly add the milk. Sir continuously to light boil. When the roux-milk begins to boil, add to the main pot and bring the whole thing to a boil which should take less than a minute.

Drain your 4 cans of clams. Soon as the pot boils, add the clams. Let it just come back to a boil once again (1-2 min), shut off the heat, add salt and pepper (or even a little garlic powder too) to taste, leaving room for additional seasoning by the bowl. If you were working with raw clams, you would want to lightly sauté them in butter for a minute or two and do the same, from then on. With caned clams, they’re pre-cooked and all you want to do is reheat them. Do not cook. They will get rubbery.

Serve with fresh chopped green ends of your bunch of green onions.

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  1. thhq on January 9, 2017 at 10:58

    My mom’s traditional white clam chowder is on the thin side, and includes some bacon. I think she discards the clam juice.

    I’m headed up to dig softshells and collect wild Olympia oysters on Willapa Bay tomorrow. The softshells are the best deep frying clam IMO. The Olympias are the traditional Gold Rush oyster for making Hangtown Fry, and that’s where they’re headed when I get back from the coast. Extremely tiny. A whole limit of 18 shucked oysters is about half a cup. But they’re much stronger flavored than Pacifics, and I use about 5-6 for every 2 eggs in the Fry.

    In the 1850’s Oysterville was the biggest city in Washington Territory, loading shiploads of these oysters for San Francisco. The oystermen broke up the oyster reefs with tongs, and by the 1880’s the commercial oyster fishery had wiped out the main beds on the mud/sand shoals. I find them in rocky places here and there.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 9, 2017 at 11:39

      Love that last paragraph.

      Just like a gold rush. Get it, make it while you can. Zero contemplation how, why, by what means it got there in the first place.

  2. thhq on January 11, 2017 at 05:03

    Sitting here in sunny cold Aberdeen. Clamming and oystering conditions yesterday were perfect. More oysters on this bed than last year. And not a soul around competing for acres of clams. Everyone wants razors, no one wants the pissers. The small ones get steamed in garlic/white wine/lemon/butter. The big ones get fried.

    Had a good mussel chowder yesterday too. Heavy cream base and lots of turmeric seasoning, giving good flavor and golden color.

    • ramon on January 11, 2017 at 06:02

      This all has me salivating. wife hates clam chowder so might have to make a half batch just for me.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 11, 2017 at 08:01

      It keeps well in the fridge. At least a week. I reheated a bowl last night and will finish it off today

  3. hap on January 11, 2017 at 12:18

    Clam chowder not down my alley. However, noticed the wood burning stove. Is that a Jotul? It looks like one, but most of them do not have catalytic converters and burn chambers, which may be a California law since wood burning is frowned on.

    In Hawaii I have a Dutch West with the catalytic converter…and it’s a pain. Hawaii does not require it so not sure why previoius owner installed. Trade winds effective at dispersing smoke.

    Fortunately, my property is in the rain forest and dying Ohias make great firewood as do “invasive species” like Faya and Strawberry guava.

    It’s a chore to “season” local firewood in an environment where average monthly rainfall is 15 inches.

  4. hap on January 11, 2017 at 20:21

    Clean burning….on demand…..good heat. Just not quite paleo.

  5. hap on January 12, 2017 at 10:40

    Since you are up in quasi Trump territory of California….thought it mildly entertaining to see a map of the counties in California that voted more or less for Trump.

    Orange county no longer a conservative bastion…nor is San Diego.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 12, 2017 at 10:53

      Yep, I’m in that Sicilian-esque red boot eminating southeast from Sacto, wound up to kick something.

    • thhq on January 12, 2017 at 15:10

      So funny and so sad. Hillary won CA in a landslide and lost the rest of America. In Illinois pay-to-play terms, the state of CA is Chicago, with the rest of the “downstate” taxpayers in the USA paying their high maintenance costs.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 12, 2017 at 16:17

      CA ought to secede. Then I might move to Austin or something.

      I generally loath every person in the state except in the red fingers.

    • thhq on January 15, 2017 at 12:02

      Here’s the sad part. Obamacare was used to buy about 5 million votes in CA. 3 million with expanded Medicaid, 2 million with Exchange subsidies. That’s why CA was such a landslide. Same thing in NYC as in LA county. Without 4 boroughs and LA Hillary loses by 500,000.

      The rest of the country paid for these urban golden tickets. Feinstein et al aren’t grateful for this gift. They want more.

    • thhq on January 17, 2017 at 08:11

      And as for the funny part, Pelosi’s 5 million ACA loyal blue votes cost about $5000 a head fed dollars per year for Medicaid and subsidies. In one week CA will be losing $25 billion a year in free money. If CA wants to keep its Obamacare they’ll have to cough up CA dough. I wish all your Sacramentonistas the best in finding it.

  6. hap on January 14, 2017 at 19:00

    Peter Thiel….in an interview with Maureen Dowd.

    in the NYT recently …said some very interesting things and has a sophisticated understanding how to draw out the salient points of different “arguments”. I leave it to you do discover his method and to a degree why he broke from the Silicon Valley orthodoxy to risk being a pariah. it’s kind of hard to feel empathy for the persecution of liberals for a a fellow money master worth billions….but he has the ability to generate thoughtful argument.

    Now..on teh issue of California secession…..he seemed to agrree that it could be good. It would certainly deprive the rest of the country from an avalanche of Leftism….and counterproductive legislation. One does notice without surprise that the California media reporting that the wonderous bullet train from nowhere to nowhere is likely to cost tens of billions of dollar more than anticipated.

  7. Alesia on January 16, 2017 at 16:57

    Chowder is one of the ultimate comfort foods. If you enjoy chowder, you may also like Hodge Podge, a Maritime favourite. It’s especially delicious in the early summer with ‘new’ potatoes and fresh peas.

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