Soup Kitchen

New England Clam Chowder (James Cagney’s)

February 16, 2017

As long as there have been celebrities, there have been fans obsessed with them. The minutiae of their lives…where they live, where they sleep, who they sleep with…and of course? What they eat. The gustatory habits of film stars, rock stars, dancers, singers….all have been subject matter for newspaper columns, magazine features and loads and loads of books. In 1958, James Cagney went on the record with his recipe for chowder. It’s pretty darn good! In it, he specified that a generous three-dozen raw clams be boiled after shucking.  This yielded a tasty broth, but some rather chewy clams. We’ve adapted/augmented the soup recipe to include more clam juice, and, to hold off on cooking the clams ’til the very end of the recipe for a more-tender result. You’ll appreciate that this is a nice, brothy chowder, not pasty or thick.

New England Clam Chowder (James Cagney's)
Serves 8
Loaded with fresh clams, bacon, potato and onion, this rice brothy New England-style chowder is not pasty or thick.
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  1. 3 dozen raw, Littleneck clams
  2. 1 1/2 cups water
  3. 1/2 tsp salt
  4. Tiny red potatoes, cut in half or sliced to make 1 cup
  5. 1/4 lb. salt pork, or, bacon, diced
  6. 2 medium onions, chopped
  7. 2 small bottles (8 oz. each) clam juice
  8. 1/2 tsp salt
  9. 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  10. 1/4 tsp dried savory
  11. 1 sprig of fresh thyme, leaves only
  12. 3 cups whole milk
  13. 2 sprigs snipped parsley, plus more for garnish
  14. 1 Tbsp butter, for garnish
  1. Shuck clams: Fill your sink with ice water. Heat another 6 cups water to boiling in a large pot. Immerse clams in boiling water for a scant 20 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, immediately scoop clams out of the hot water and into to the ice-water bath.
  2. The clams will have opened a bit. Insert a knife in to each clam to open the shell. Scrape the clam out of the shell, discarding any impurities. Gather clam meat in a bowl. Set aside. Discard shells.
  3. In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, heat 1 1/2 cups water to boiling. Add potato pieces reduce heat and simmer until you can pierce the potatoes with a fork. Turn heat off. Leave potatoes and water in pot.
  4. In a medium sized heavy skillet over medium heat, saute the diced bacon. Leave the rendered fat in the pan; transfer the bacon to the pot of potatoes and water.
  5. Cook the diced onion in the fat left in the skillet over low heat until onions are soft but not browned. Transfer the onion to the bacon and potatoes pot. Add herbs, salt, pepper and clam juice. Heat soup to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to a slow simmer. Add milk. Add reserved clams. Simmer for five or six minutes until all are heated through. Adjust seasoning. Garnish with a bit more parsley and a smidgeon of butter. Serve soup with crusty bread and butter.
  1. We used Littleneck clams for this soup with good results. You can choose a different variety, but if you use larger clams, you won't need a full three dozen.
Adapted from James Cagney
Adapted from James Cagney
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