Hell no. It isn’t a glutinous, gummy, grayish clump of quivering mush with a few pinkish flecks of clam poked into it. In the versions at the low-scale “family restaurant” at Bay Village’s Gazebo in Beach Haven on Long Beach Island last week and on the way back from LBI last night at the upscale Blue20 on Route 70 in Cherry Hill you can’t say the clams were floating in the soup because the stuff is just too gluey. It figures an Ohio-based would-be chain (the Mancy family in Toledo)would get it wrong. At no time should FLOUR be used to thicken a New England Clam Chowder! At no time should it be potato soup with a few clams thrown in.

But Ohio-bastardized or not, most of what we get in area restaurants is a ghastly version of Maine-style New England chowder, a cream-based soup with little, if any flour. When well-made its good, but you haven’t lived if you haven’t tried Rhode Island-style. The best example of that is at The Black Pearl in Newport, RI. The first time I visited, the other patrons began placing bets on how many bowls I would eat after I finished my third. I ordered nothing else, but stopped at six bowls. Not that I couldn’t have eaten a couple more, but I started to feel a little embarrassed.

Emeril Lagasse’s hometown of Fall River, MA is just a scant 21 miles from Newport, and I get close to the Black Pearl’s chowder by blending his method with my own. If you can’t make it to the Black Pearl, make it at home.

For six servings:

  • 5 pounds large cherrystone clams, scrubbed, rinsed, discard open clams
  • 1/4 lb fatback or Salt Pork finely diced (Bacon is an OK substitute)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus a couple for finishing
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onions
  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • salt  to taste
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives or green onions
  • a small dash of cayenne

In a large stockpot bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add the clams, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Shake the pot and cook 5 to 10 minutes longer until the clams are open.

Transfer the clams to a bowl and strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheescloth into a bowl. If you have less than a quart of broth, add some bottled clam broth. When the clams are cool enough, shuck and chop them.

Cook the fatback in a large heavy pot over medium heat until crisp and the fat is rendered. Pour off all the fat except 2 tablespoons. Add the 2 tablespoons butter, leeks, onions, and celery and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the thyme, and bay leaves and cook until the vegetables soften, about 3 minutes, being careful not to brown. Add the potatoes and reserved clam broth and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the broth thickens slightly and the potatoes are very tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, discard the thyme stems and bay leaves, stir in the clams and cream, and season with the pepper and the salt to taste. You may add more cream or clam juice at this point, to taste.

Set the chowder aside for 1 hour, covered, to blend the flavors. Reheat on low, but do not boil. Serve hot; garnish each bowl with a pat of butter, parsley and chives, and I add a bit of freshly chopped thyme as well. I find the thyme brings out the clam taste best. Finally, a wee dash of cayenne pepper on each serving, as the big E would say, kicks it up a notch.

The Black Pearl Newport Bannister’s Wharf Newport, RI 02840
401.846.5264 [email protected]