This Rhode Island clam chowder showcases quahog clams in a clear broth with potatoes and salt pork.
As with fried chicken or barbecue in the South, the finer points of making clear-broth clam chowder inspire intense debate among Rhode Islanders. The question of whether it’s best to chop, mince, or grind the clams can prompt arguments so impassioned, a full-blown melée complete with quahogs pinging off foreheads isn’t out of the question. Purists insist salt pork is the only acceptable fat. Others thwart tradition and use vegetable oil, bacon, or butter. Varying opinions about the proper size of potato cubes abound. A dash or two of Worcestershire sauce is hailed by some, disdained by others. And in certain quarters, the mere mention of fresh herbs can trigger a level of scorn usually reserved for Yankees fans in this decidedly Red Sox-obsessed state. You decide.–Linda Beaulieu
Rhode Island Clam Chowder
- 10 to 12 quahogs in the shell
- 1/4 pound salt pork cut into 1/2-inch (12 mm) dice
- 1/2 cup onions cut into 1/4-inch (6 mm) dice
- 3 pounds all-purpose potatoes peeled and cut into 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch (12 mm to 18 mm) dice
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- Rinse and scrub the quahogs under cold running water. Discard any that aren’t tightly closed. Dump the quahogs in a stockpot and cover with 6 cups cold water. Bring to a simmer over medium- to medium-high heat, cover the pot, and cook just until the quahogs open, 8 to 10 minutes. Immediately remove the quahogs from the pot and toss them in a colander or strainer. Discard any quahogs that didn’t open. Cover the stockpot and place over low heat to keep the broth-infused water warm while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
- When cool enough to touch, remove the cooked quahog meat from the shells and chop it into 1/8-inch dice. Discard the shells.
- In a skillet over medium heat, cook the salt pork until the fat renders and the pork is browned and crisp. Transfer the salt pork to a plate and keep the skillet over medium heat. Add the onions to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until they’re translucent but not golden. Scrape the onions, along with any brown bits stuck to the skillet, into the pot of clam cooking liquid. If necessary, deglaze the skillet with a ladle of broth, stirring and scraping the bottom of the skillet, and then pour the liquid back into the pot.
- Bring the contents of the pot to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Stir in the salt pork. Season with the pepper and the Worcestershire sauce. Add the cooked quahogs and heat through for a minute. Taste and correct seasonings. Serve immediately or, if you prefer, let it cool, cover, and refrigerate and reheat the next day.
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We’d love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Originally published February 15, 2018
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
This is how my mom made chowder (sans the Worcestershire sauce) and the way I still make it. Over the top delicious. It needs no added spices as quahogs put in all the flavor needed. I now live in Western Washington, Bremerton, to be precise and love making chowder every chance I get. The clams here are a tad different, but also very tasty. Yum. I think I need to go dig a batch of clams.
I will never find quahog clams here in NY. If I use littlenecks, how many do you think I need? I am so making this. Love your blog…keep it up!
Hi, Lisa S. It all depends, of course, upon size. The smaller the littleneck, the more prized they are for eating raw. But you want some bivalve meatiness in this and should go for the larger ones. I’d say try between 25 to 35 littlenecks.
That doesn’t even resemble “clam chowdah”!
Actually, Robert, Rhode Island clam chowdah, or chowder, is traditionally unlike the classic New England clam chowder. Whereas the latter is the classic creamy chowder one tends to think of and to see on menus, the Rhode Island version is made with a clear broth—clam juice and water, naturally. It’s a little like New England clam chowder but without the cream or milk. Those who tend to favor this approach—including myself—feel the relatively wan broth doesn’t obstruct the briny flavors of the sea. So while not the chowdah that you think of, it is, indeed, still chowder, at least as far as Rhode Islanders are concerned.
Grew up in Conn. with a sea-loving father who was also a short order cook. This is the exact clam chowder he made (although no Worcestershire sauce) and it is still the BEST chowder ever. Served in a chowder mug, it IS the briny flavors of the sea! AHH!
Lovely memory, Mary. You paint a charming picture of your childhood, thanks for sharing….