Mom’s Red Clam Chowder

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Mom’s Red Clam Chowder

I grew up on red clam chowder, a specialty of my first generation Italian-American mother. She was an excellent cook and people love her chowder. Super-thick, it contains a few diced potatoes, but also barley, perhaps a throwback to the farro – or farina-thickened soups of her ancestors. Adding that box of frozen vegetables at the end was her way of making this a nutritionally complete meal.

Yield: 6 servings


  • For the clams:
  • 3 pounds littleneck, manilla, or cherrystone clams, rinsed and scrubbed clean
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 leafy celery top
  • 1 garlic clove, bruised with side of knife
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • For the chowder base:
  • 2 strips thick-sliced bacon, diced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 rib celery, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 carrot, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/3 cup pearl barley
  • 1 can (28 ounces) Italian plum tomatoes with juices
  • 1 cup diced peeled potatoes
  • 1 box (10 ounces) frozen mixed vegetables (optional)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


1. Place the clams in a large, broad saucepan. Add the water, celery top, garlic, bay leaf, and salt. Cover and heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until all the clams are opened, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat. Remove the opened clams with a slotted spoon. If any clams remain unopened, cover the saucepan and simmer 2 to 3 minutes more. Discard any clams that refuse to open. Set aside to cool.

2. Set a strainer over a deep bowl. Line the strainer with cheesecloth or a paper towel dampened with water. Strain the clam broth. Discard the so lids and reserve the broth.

3. Meanwhile, rinse and dry the saucepan. Add the bacon, onion, celery, carrot, garlic, bay leaf, and oregano. Cook, stirring over low heat, until the bacon begins to give up fat. Then cover and sweat the vegetables until very soft but not browned, about 10 minutes.

4. Add the clam broth and barley. Heat to boiling. Cover and cook until the barley is tender, about 50 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, empty the can of tomatoes and juices into a bowl. With kitchen shears, snip the tomatoes into 1/2-inch pieces; set aside. Pull the clams from the shells and snip into 1/2-inch pieces.

6. When the barley is tender, add the tomatoes, potatoes, and clams. (If using the frozen mixed vegetables, add them now.) Heat to boiling; reduce heat and simmer uncovered until potatoes are soft and flavors are blended, about 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper.

Note: There are about 1 dozen manilla clams, 10 littleneck clams, or 4 to 6 cherrystone clams in 1 pound.


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