As good as homemade clam chowder can be, many cooks are understandably daunted at the prospect of making it and turn to canned products instead.
We wanted to make a clam chowder that was economical and not much more complicated than opening a can. We also wanted one that was balanced: not too thin and watery, not too thick and floury.
Hard-shell clams are what's wanted in chowder, and after trying several varieties we settled on medium-size little necks or small cherrystones. We chose waxy red boiling potatoes over starchy ones, which tended to disintegrate in the chowder. While some recipes found the breakdown of potatoes to be a good thing in the way of thickening the chowder, we found that thickening with flour to be best; it also helps to stabilize the chowder, which can easily separate and curdle without it. Cream turned out to be essential, but needed only a minimal amount, thereby not overpowering the flavor of the clams while still giving the chowder the richness and smoothness that butterfat is so good at delivering. Finally, we chose bacon rather than salt pork, a traditional component of chowder, to enrich the flavor with a subtle smokiness.