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New England Clam Chowder

Is it weird that I first fell in love with New England clam chowder in Florida?

Let me explain: Back in the ’80s, we spent many vacations with our grandparents in the Orlando area, which of course meant many trips to 🌟DISNEY🌟.

And even back then, we didn’t just do the Magic Kingdom. We also spent many hours at Lake Buena Vista.

new england clam chowder
Photo: Casey Barber

You young ones may not know that before it was Disney Springs, before it was Downtown Disney, before Pleasure Island, it was called Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village.

(The LEGO stuff has always been there as far back as I can remember, which is probably 1983 or so? That year was also my first trip to EPCOT, but I digress.)

And at Lake Buena Vista, there used to be a restaurant that extended on a pier into the lagoon called Cap’n Jack’s Oyster Bar.

new england clam chowder
Photo: Casey Barber

Weirdly enough, even more so than looking at all the LEGO stuff, I absolutely loved going to Cap’n Jack’s for two reasons.

One: they served frozen strawberry margaritas and (again, back in the day) the bartenders would make a virgin version for my sister and me.

The margaritas came with lime wheels that got all icy and frosty in the strawberry slush, and it just felt so fancy and special—like so much at Disney.

Those margs were legit delicious, too. I finally got to have a few non-virgin ones with Dan (when I took him to experience his first EPCOT visit!) and it was a childhood experience elevated.

new england clam chowder
Photo: Casey Barber

Not only that, but Cap’n Jack’s, which opened in 1975, was the first spot on the East Coast to serve strawberry margaritas! WHAT! No wonder our parents went crazy for them.

Second: at every table, there were heaping bowls of free oyster cracker packets to be eaten with the restaurant’s New England clam chowder.

At first, the clam chowder was merely an excuse for me to hoover down as many oyster cracker packets as humanly possible while the grown-ups enjoyed their margs.

new england clam chowder
Photo: Casey Barber

But it became something to look forward to in its own right. In fact, this clam chowder may have been the spark that lit the flame of my love for clams overall.

Cap’n Jack’s was closed by 2014 when we made our most recent trip to the Disney World complex, so I never got to give it a proper goodbye.

And though a smaller dockside margarita bar tries to keep the flame alive, it’s not the same.

But now that I’ve clocked a lot of time in New England, and taste-tested a lot of authentic New England clam chowder in a lot of authentic shore-side and lakeside restaurants, I can say my Cap’n Jack’s experience was pretty on-point!

new england clam chowder
Photo: Casey Barber

I honestly have no idea what was in their clam chowder, but mine does not try to be fancier than it needs to be.

I love a creamy chowder of any sort, so New England clam chowder fits the bill. If it had been Manhattan clam chowder in its tangy tomato broth, I likely wouldn’t have had the same slow-burning love.

And even more than that, I love a thick clam chowder—when you dip your spoon it it, you shouldn’t see the soup drizzling off. I want it to fall in big drips and drabs.

So mine is thickened with a basic dairy roux to get that rib-sticking texture.

It also doesn’t fool around with too many vegetables in the mix. Instead, I hit hard at the outset with a ton of aromatics, letting those flavors highlight the three tentpoles: clams, potatoes, and bacon.

new england clam chowder

With both chopped clams and clam juice, you’ll always get a hint of salty brine.

Speaking of salt—even though this clam chowder starts with bacon and has the brininess of clams in it, you’ll still need to salt liberally to your taste.

Don’t be shy, and taste as you go to make sure it’s not too bland.

Oh, and just in case I wasn’t clear, you better serve this with a lot of oyster crackers. Whether you decide to pair it with a strawberry margarita is your call.

new england clam chowder

New England Clam Chowder

Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes

New England clam chowder has a few hallmarks: it's thick and creamy, and packed with clams, bacon, and potatoes. Here's a classic take on the soup that will warm you up all winter long.

Ingredients

Chowder

  • 2 (6.5-ounce) cans chopped clams
  • 2 thick slices bacon, sliced into batons
  • 1 medium or 2 small leeks, rinsed and thinly sliced into half-moons
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 3 medium to large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • kosher salt
  • 3/4 pound Russet potatoes (1 large spud will probably do ya fine), diced into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/4 cup (30 grams) all-purpose flour
  • freshly ground black pepper

For Garnish

  • finely chopped parsley, optional
  • oyster crackers, not optional

Instructions

  1. Drain the canned clams, reserving the juice in a measuring cup. You should have about 1 cup juice, but don't worry too much if it's not quite enough.
  2. Set both the clams and the reserved juice aside.
  3. Add the bacon to a medium (3- to 4-quart) heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven.
  4. Cook over medium-low heat until the bacon is crispy and has rendered its fat, about 7-8 minutes.
  5. With tongs or a metal spider, remove the crispy bacon and set aside.
  6. Add the leek, shallot, garlic, and celery to the pot, along with a healthy pinch of salt.
  7. Cook, stirring frequently, until the aromatics are tender, about 8 minutes.
  8. Add the potatoes, bay leaf, bottled clam juice, and reserved clam juice to the pot.
  9. Increase the heat to medium and cover to bring the broth to a simmer.
  10. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
  11. While the potatoes cook, whisk the half and half with the flour in a measuring cup.
  12. When the potatoes are tender, uncover and stir the clams into the pot.
  13. Whisk the blended half and half into the pot and bring to a simmer, cooking just until thickened.
  14. Season with pepper and additional salt to taste.
  15. Divide between 6 bowls.
  16. Garnish with the reserved bacon and parsley (if desired), and serve with copious handfuls of oyster crackers.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 190Total Fat: 6gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 28mgSodium: 433mgCarbohydrates: 25gFiber: 2gSugar: 4gProtein: 9g

The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.

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7 Comments

  1. Mmmmm…. from another chowder fan, this looks great– I will try it soon! And Newcomb Hollow Beach…ahhhh one of my favorite places on the whole earth! Thanks for the sensual memories!

  2. I’ve never really gotten into clam chowder (or any seafood, for that matter) but it’s a favorite of my mom’s, which gives it a nice warm spot in my heart.

  3. This is pretty much the way I make clam chowder, although I use frozen clam meat.

  4. Thanks for the link to my blog about living in Wellfleet! I used to love chowder, but go easy on it now that I’m older and need to be able to digest the dinner that follows. Still, I agree with your statement about tomatoes. They definitely do not belong.

  5. This sounds so good. I’m in Baltimore right now and I had creamy crab chowder–soo good. It had pretty much two ingredients in it–yup, cream & fresh crab. Mmmm

  6. I didn’t know you had a Wellfleet connection, Casey! Small world. I’ve never ever TRIED to make clam chowder. This recipe is beckoning to me… (when the kids aren’t home, since the girls won’t eat meat or fish and my son doesn’t like clams…)

    1. Jennifer, my only Wellfleet connection is through my husband – this post is from one of our esteemed contributors, food writer Carrie Vasios.

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