RHODE ISLAND CLAM CHOWDER (clear, for eight to ten)

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A plague on both your houses. Along the southern coast of Rhode Island a purist’s clam chowder was born, which contained neither dairy nor tomatoes, only clams, bacon, celery, onions and potatoes. This clear chowder is sometimes called “south country style” after Washington County, where it is believed to have originated. Ironically, chowder further north in Rhode Island, closer to Boston, often is red.

24 medium-size quahog clams usually rated “top-neck” or “cherrystone,” rinsed

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

¼ pound slab bacon or salt pork, diced

1 large Spanish onion, diced

2 large celery ribs, cleaned and diced

12 red bliss potatoes, cubed

½ cup dry white wine

3 sprigs thyme

1 bay leaf

freshly ground black pepper to taste

¼ cup chopped parsley

1. Put the clams in a large, heavy Dutch oven, add about 4 cups water then set over medium-high heat. Cover and cook until the 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 those aside as well.

2. Rinse out the pot and return it to the stove. Add butter and turn heat to medium low. Add the bacon or salt pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat had rendered and the pork has started to brown, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pork from the fat and set aside.

3. Add onions and celery to the fat and cook, stirring frequently, until they are soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the potatoes and wine, and continue cooking until the wine has evaporated and the potatoes have just started to soften, approximately 5 minutes. Add 4 cups of clam broth, reserving the rest for another use. Add the thyme and bay leaf.

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

5. Meanwhile, chop the clams into bits that are about the size of the bacon dice.

6. When the potatoes are tender, stir in the chopped clams and reserved bacon. Add black pepper to taste. Let the chowder come just to a simmer and remove from heat. Fish out the thyme and bay leaf and discard.

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

from Sam Sifton, printed in the New York Times

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