Creamy, hearty New England clam chowder is by far the most popular chowder style (compared to Manhattan or Rhode Island versions). Chowder made with milk or cream began appearing in the early 1800s, and New Englanders claimed it as their own in the 1900s. Many versions use a flour and butter roux to thicken the soup. The roux is necessary if you’re cooking with milk; otherwise, it curdles when boiled. This chowder gets its thick texture from a combination of heavy cream and puréed potatoes. You can crush some of the potatoes against the side of the pot (instead of puréeing the vegetables) for a thinner but equally delicious version.
Cook the bacon in a wide heavy-duty 4- to 5-quart pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to turn crisp and golden, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat. Pour off and discard the bacon fat, leaving the bacon in the pot. Add the butter and onion and cook over low heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened but not colored, about 8 minutes. Add the celery and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until just softened, about 5 minutes. Add the clam broth, potatoes, bay leaves, thyme, and 1 tsp. pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to maintain a simmer and cook, partially covered, until the potatoes are tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Discard the bay leaves.
Purée 1 cup of the soup solids with just enough liquid to cover in a food processor or blender, and add it back to the soup. Add the cream and bring to a boil.
Remove the soup from the heat, wait until it stops simmering (this may take a minute if you’re using a Dutch oven), and stir in the clams and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
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Photo: Scott Phillips