Shellfish Chowder with Bacon & Thyme
by Chris Fischer
- 40 Littleneck clams in the shell
- 20 oysters in the shell
- 30 mussels in the shell
- 3 pieces of bacon, roughly chopped
- 1 yellow onion, cut into 1⁄2-inch dice
- 3 ribs of celery, cut into 1⁄2-inch dice
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1⁄2-inch dice
- 5 Russet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1⁄2-inch pieces
- 1⁄2 gallon whole milk
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
- freshly ground pepper
Shuck clams and oysters into a large mixing bowl, saving as much of the liquor as possible. Separate the shellfish meat from the liquor (being sure to pick out any shells), and strain the liquor through cheesecloth into a separate bowl to remove grit. Put the mussels in a large sauté pan with one-half cup of water over high heat. Cover the pan with a lid. Steam until most of the mussels are open, remove the pot from the heat, and set the mussels aside (still covered) to cool and finish cooking.
In a large soup pot, render the bacon for 10 minutes over low heat. When a good amount of fat has rendered out of the bacon and the bottom of the pan has started to brown, remove (and reserve) the bacon and add the onions, celery, and carrots. Sauté over medium heat until the vegetables are softened and lightly cara- melized. Add the potatoes and enough of the clam and oyster liquor to cover the vegetables, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan as you pour the liquids in. Partially cover the pot and simmer until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, remove the mussels from their shells and reserve them in a bowl. Discard any mussels that haven’t opened. Add the milk, thyme, and a few grinds of fresh pepper to the potatoes. Bring to a simmer gently, being careful not to boil the milk. When the chowder is just under a boil, add the clams and oysters and continue to barely simmer until they have just firmed up, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the cooked mussels and the reserved bacon and stir them into the chowder. Taste the chowder for salt and add more quahog and oyster liquor if more salt is needed.
To serve, add parsley immediately before ladling into bowls.