- 3 1/2 to 4 cups water
- 5 pounds littleneck clams, scrubbed in cold water until no grit remains on the shells
- 1/2 pound pre-sliced bacon, cut into 1-inch slices
- Dried aleppo pepper (or any other "smoky" dried pepper) for dusting
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 stalks green celery, washed, trimmed and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
- Salt and pepper
- 1 small yellow onion, peeled and diced
- 2 leeks, cleaned and diced, white and light green part only
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 cup dry vermouth
- 4 Yukon gold potatoes, washed and cut into 3/4-inch dice
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups cream
- 1 tablespoon chopped thyme leaves
- Worcestershire sauce, to taste
- Hot sauce, to taste
- 2 tablespoons chopped tarragon leaves
- 1 teaspoon chopped dill
- 1 tablespoon dry Marsala
- Baked Bread, for dipping, recipe follows
Place a large pot or rondeau on the stove and add 3 cups of the water. Bring the water to a boil and add the clams. Cook until they pop open. Though it is important to stir the clams as they cook, take care because the shells are fragile and break easily. Put the clams in a colander and reserve the cooking liquid. Shell the clams, discard the shells and reserve the clam meat and the liquid separately.
In another large rondeau or pot, add the bacon and cook over medium heat, until crispy. Drain the bacon with a slotted spoon onto a paper towel, dust with the aleppo pepper and set aside. Add the butter to the bacon fat in the pan and quickly saute the celery rounds, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the onion, leeks, and garlic to the rondeau and season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Cook until they become tender and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the vermouth. Continue to cook until almost all of the liquid has evaporated, 8 to 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, in another large pot, combine the diced potatoes, bay leaves, 2 cups cream and the chopped thyme leaves. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add a splash of Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce. Stir to blend. Taste for seasoning.
There is a good chance there will be grit in the clam cooking liquid. Strain it and add it to the onion/leek mixture. Stir to blend. Taste for seasoning. Combine with the potato mixture. Add the clam meat, reserved celery, tarragon, and dill. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Add Marsala. Taste for seasoning. Add more cream (and remaining water, if needed). Top with the bacon just before serving.
Baked Bread for Clam Chowder Dipping:
- 8 (3/4 to 1-inch thick) slices sourdough bread
- 3/4 stick unsalted butter
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into thin slices
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground white pepper
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon dill seeds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Arrange the bread slices on a baking sheet in a single layer. In a small skillet over low heat, melt the butter and add the garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Heat gently for 1 minute and use a pastry brush to coat the bread slices. Pour any remaining butter into the bottom of the baking sheet and dust the bread with the paprika and the dill seeds.
Place the tray in the center of the oven and bake until the slices are browned and crispy, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool for a minute before serving alongside the soup.