Dip a spoon into this thick, creamy soup full of clams, potatoes, celery and bacon and enjoy the flavors of a perfect New England clam chowder. No one will guess that small, tender turnips take the place of the usual onions, or that the broth is thickened with puréed vegetables instead of flour. Turnips are one of those vegetables that aren’t used as often as they used to be, but deserve more attention. Turnips, like onions, were considered a basic aromatic in older times and were used to build background flavor in soups and stocks. Sautéed turnips are a great substitute for onions in small quantities, as long as you use small, firm ones and avoid those with wooden centers. Discard turnips that are older, bigger, or look wilted, as their harsh, peppery flavor will dominate.
Buy a 51 ounce (1.45 kilograms) can of clams at Costco and avoid opening lots of the smaller cans. It’s cheaper too, which will make your clam chowder very authentic, as New England is known for frugality.
New England Clam Chowder
Serves 6 to 8
3 ounces (84 grams) thick-cut bacon (3 slices), 1/4 inch (6 mm) dice
3 tablespoons (45 ml) unsalted butter
2 small, firm turnips, peeled and shredded, discard any with woody centers
1 cup (240 ml) finely chopped celery, use tender inner stalks with leaves
1 can (51 ounces or 1.45 kilograms) drained, chopped clams, juice reserved
1 bottle (8 ounces or 240 ml) clam juice, plus more if needed
2 pounds (900 grams) potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch (13 mm) cubes
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon (5 ml) chopped, fresh thyme
1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook the bacon in a heavy, 4 to 5 quart (3.8 L) pan or Dutch oven, on medium-high.
Stir occasionally, until it turns golden-brown, about 5 to 6 minutes. Pour off the fat, leaving the bacon in the pot. Add the turnips and butter, and sauté over medium heat, stirring frequently, until they start to brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the celery, continuing to stir, until the celery softens, another 4 to 5 minutes.
Measure the reserved juice from the clams, adding enough extra clam juice to make 4 cups (960 ml) total. Add the clam juice to the pan, along with the potatoes, bay leaves and thyme. Turn heat to high and bring the chowder to a boil, then reduce heat to low and partially cover the pot with a lid. Simmer the chowder until the potatoes are tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Discard the bay leaves and put 1 1/2 cups (350 ml) of the vegetables, plus enough liquid to cover them, in a blender and blend until smooth. Return the purée to the pan and add the cream and clams, stirring until thoroughly mixed. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve. Don’t let the soup come to a boil when reheating or it may separate.