New England Clam Chowder

Just the thing for a blustery night.

New England Clam Chowder
10—12 servings

6 pounds (about 18-24) medium-size quahog clams (top neck or cherrystone), rinsed
Cooking liquid:
—3 cups water, 1 cup white wine, 4 shallots, two branches of thyme

—Alternate A: 1-1/2 pints shucked clams plus 1 bottle of clam juice
—Alternate B: Two 15-ounce cans chopped clams (reserve the liquid)
(Note: do not use canned clams with sugar added)

1 tablespoon butter
1/4 pound lean salt pork (or slab bacon), diced
2 leeks, tops removed, halved and cleaned, then sliced into half moons
4 cups clam broth (If using canned clams,  just use the reserved juice)
2 cups water
1-1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (3 cups)
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cups organic heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped parsley

(Skip this step if using canned chopped clams) Put the clams in a large, heavy Dutch oven, cooking in the wine and herb cooking liquid. Cover, and cook until clams have opened, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. (Clams that fail to open after 15 to 20 minutes should be discarded.) Strain clam broth through a sieve lined with cheesecloth or doubled-up paper towels, and set aside. Remove clams from shells, and set aside as well.

Rinse out the pot, and return it to the stove. Add butter, and turn heat to medium-low. Add slab bacon or salt pork, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3-4 minutes. Add the leeks to the bacon, and cook, stirring frequently, until they are soft but not brown, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in potatoes and wine, and continue cooking until wine has evaporated and the potatoes have just started to soften, approximately 5 minutes. Add enough clam broth to—just—cover the potatoes, approximately 3 cups. Add the thyme and the bay leaf.

Partly cover the pot, and simmer gently until potatoes are tender, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the clams into bits about the size of the bacon dice (Skip this step if using canned chopped clams).

When potatoes are tender, add cream and stir in chopped clams. Add black pepper to taste. Let come to a simmer, and remove from heat. (Do not let chowder come to a full boil.) Fish out the thyme branches and bay leaf, and discard.

The chowder should be allowed to sit for a while to cure. Reheat it to a bare simmer before serving, then garnish with chopped parsley. Serve with oyster crackers.