Hibernation Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder Pen and Palate

illustration: tram nguyen

A few weeks ago, while divvying up the grocery shopping, Rob and I accidentally doubled up on the bacon. I noticed this at the end of our excursion and tried to amend the mistake, but Rob balked, insisting that we were past the point in our shopping trip of putting things back (!!) and that we would merely have to live with our mistakes. To be fair, once I start second-guessing my grocery choices I am unstoppable in the “hold on let me just swap these six things super-quickly” department. In an effort to keep the peace, I snuck only one package back onto the shelves. So we ended up with four pounds of bacon.

Having extra bacon in the house is always a wonderful excuse for making clam chowder, and the timing worked out perfectly this time around, because the weather in New York is bleak. Like, 3 degrees, don’t leave the house bleak. I hate winter. I’m a major baby, and I’m always cold, and, like everyone else on the planet, I get depressed when the sun goes down at 4pm. Poor me, I know.

The thing is, I know that depressing winters are just one of the (several) trade-offs of living in New York, which obviously I am not willing to give up. But that knowledge does not get me very far. It does not, for instance, prevent me from fully retreating from civilization as soon as December rolls around. And because as a human I’m not physically able to hibernate, I instead do the next best thing: I hole up in my apartment in various sweat-clothes, load up on carbs, stews, and creamy chowders, and eat my way through the wintry despair until spring, at which point I roll myself out of bed and frantically try to reestablish all my friendships. (This year I’ll be better, I swear!)

Anyway, clam chowder is the perfect antidote to the mid-winter, no-end-in-sight blues. There is no cure for the February blues except maybe a quick trip to the Caribbean, which of course is not always feasible. This chowder is hearty, delicious, and cozy; sometimes when I eat it I feel like a hard-knock Dickensian hero who is warming himself by the fire for the first time in months. Clam chowder also happens to be great for entertaining, and very easy to make. Maybe don’t eat too much of it, though, or you may go into cardiac arrest. If you are okay with blowing out an artery, and prefer to eat this soup every day, at least make sure you change your underwear regularly. As my mother always says, no one wants to be found dead in dirty underwear.

HIBERNATION (NEW ENGLAND) CLAM CHOWDER

Makes 4-6 servings

7- 6.5 oz cans of minced clams
24 oz clam juice
1 lb russet potatoes, peeled and diced
½ lb bacon, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bay leaf
¼ cup flour
1 ¼ cup heavy cream
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 splash white wine
Salt and pepper, to taste

Drain your clams, reserving their juices. Set aside.

Bring the potatoes and the clam juice to a boil, and then lower heat and let simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large saucepan, cook your bacon over medium heat. (You can add some butter if you want, but seriously, are you asking for a trip to the hospital?) Once the bacon’s crispy and brown, toss in the onions, celery, garlic, and bay leaf, and sauté on medium-high until soft and fragrant. Side note: You’ll notice we did not drain the bacon fat. That’s right. WE ARE GLUTTONS.

Add the flour and stir in for about two minutes, without letting it brown. Now, slowly stir in the juices you saved from the clams you strained, the potatoes, the clams, heavy cream, the Worcestershire sauce, and white wine. Stirring constantly, let your chowder simmer for 5-7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with as many oyster crackers as you like, because you are an adult and there is no one to scold you for using too many packets. (Just me?)

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