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Rhode Island clam chowder

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SKILL LEVEL :
Easy

What I discovered in the Florida Keys

I recently returned from a boating trip through the Florida Keys with our friends Barbara and George. What a gorgeous corner of the earth. Our group, swam, snorkeled, dove, fished, paddled boarded and played with dolphins.

I would have brought this amazing dolphin home with me, but he didn't fit in my suit case.

We ate a lot of great food

Needless to say, we ate a lot of spectacular seafood, including some that we caught ourselves. One night we took our food to a local spot called Castaway in Marathon.

This open-air, old-school seafood restaurant buys its catch from local fishermen. They also allow you to bring in your catch and have them cook it for you. My husband and George had speer-fished and brought in a pile of fish and lobsters. So we took them over to Castaway and had them cook us up an enormous feast. Our meal started with the best clam chowder I ever had. It was broth-based, buttery and lemony and not overly creamy and thick like some New England clam chowders. Of course I begged for the recipe, but they wouldn't reveal it.

Broth-based clam chowder is a third type of clam chowder

I always thought there were just two types of clam chowder: New England (cream based) and Manhattan (tomato based). What I didn't realize is there is a third type of clam chowder called broth-based clam chowder that originated in both Rhode Island (known as Rhode Island clam chowder or South County style clam chowder) as well as another broth based clam chowder from North Carolina (known as Hatteras clam chowder.)

 

Here is my take on a broth-based Rhode Island style clam chowder. I am not claiming it is authentic, as I don't want to offend any Rhode Islanders, but I will say it is darn good.

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Broth-based clam chowder is suitable for many diets

Broth based clam chowder is light and vegetable dense, and is now my favorite way to make clam chowder. There is no floury roux that is used to thicken New England-style clam chowder, so broth-based clam chowder is gluten free. Broth-based clam chowder can be finished with butter or a little cream or milk, but the dairy is entirely optional, making it suitable for people on dairy-free diets. I personally like to finish it with a few tablespoons of butter and a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Fresh or canned clams

If you have access to fresh clams, by all means make this soup with fresh clams. I wrote the recipe trying to keep it simple  and easy to make from easily obtainable ingredients. If you keep a few cans of clams and clam juice in your pantry, this soup can be made from staples you may generally keep on hand -- potatoes, carrots and celery. I like Bar Harbor brand clams and clam juice because there are no additives, just clams and sea salt. I add a little chicken stock to stretch the clam juice and mellow it out a bit.

 

Rhode Island clam chowder

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 6 -8 servings

Broth based clam chowder is a lighter, vegetable dense version of clam chowder. Made with clams, bacon, potatoes, celery, carrots and lemon juice, this may be your new favorite clam chowder.

Ingredients

  • 4 6.5-ounce cans chopped clams
  • 4 slices thick cut bacon, chopped into 1/4" pieces
  • 2 cups thinly sliced leeks (white parts only), about 4 medium-sized leeks
  • 3 stalks celery, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped in a 1/4" dice
  • 2 t fresh thyme, chopped
  • 3 8-ounce bottles clam juice
  • 1 14.5 ounce can chicken stock
  • 2 t Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 cups Yukon potatoes, peeled and thinly diced (about 2 pounds)
  • 1/2 t crushed red peppers, to taste
  • 4 T butter (optional)
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 4 T chopped parsley

Instructions

  1. Set a fine mesh colander over a bowl and drain clams into the mesh. Reserve clam juice and set juice and clams aside.
  2. Heat a heavy bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven over medium high and add the bacon. Cook stirring occasionally until crisped. Remove bacon from the pot and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Set aside.
  3. Add leeks to the residual bacon grease and saute for about 5 minutes, until soft. Add celery, carrots and thyme and continue cooking for another 3 minutes.
  4. Add clam juice, including the clam juice reserved from the canned clams, chicken stock and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil and add the potatoes. Return to a boil and then reduce heat to medium low. Add the bacon and crushed red peppers to the pot and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
  5. When potatoes are done, stir in 4 tablespoons of butter. Add clams, lemon juice and parsley and heat briefly. You do not want to overcook the clams or they become tough and rubbery. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Notes

Serve with garlic bread.

 

THIS SERVES WELL WITH

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5 COMMENTS

Comments

  1. richard says:

    I also rate this a 4. Made it yesterday. Added roughly 1 pound butternut squash cubed, 3-4 cups chopped kale, and a pound of fresh shrimp, shelled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Increased liquids to 80 oz. Delightful.

    1. Kim says:

      Hi Richard,

      Your modifications sound fabulous! Next time I make this soup I’m making it your way. Thank you for sharing.

  2. lorenzo sonobuono says:

    They don’t use leeks or carrots in Rhode Island to make this chowder. Carrots are out totally, onion is in. It’s a local soup that started here many years before the Boston creamy chowder because dairy wasn’t as trustworthy.

    1. Kim Pawell says:

      Hi Lorenzo,

      It sounds like you are a local Rhode Islander and I am sure you know best, although I have seen one other recipe for Rhode Island Clam Chowder that also used carrots. I did mention in my headnote that I was not sure how my recipe would stack up against traditional Rhode Island clam chowder. I developed this recipe after discovering clear broth clam chowder in the Florida Keys. It was incredibly delicious, but the restaurant was not going to give up the recipe so I went home and developed this one based on my memory of their soup. I loved the clear broth approach compared to overly creamy New England-style clam chowder. In my research I discovered there were several kinds of clear broth clam chowder that developed on the East Coast, including Rhode Island clam chowder and Hatteras clam chowder from North Carolina. I love the history you site regarding the unreliability of dairy as the reason Rhode Island clam chowder soup developed. My apologies for any affront to tradition. Perhaps I should have more accurately named my chowder Newport Beach, California Clam Chowder! Thank you for writing in. I learn something new from my readers every day.

  3. Rich says:

    NO Carrots, Ever. This is a modified version, not a true RI chowder.

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