2 quarts Little Neck clams, steamed, liquor reserved
3-4 lbs potatoes, peeled
1/2 lb lean salt pork
3 large sweet onions, sliced
2 whole bay leaves
1 thick slice bacon (optional)
2-3 celery stalks with green tops
4 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
2-3 green onions or 1 leek, finely chopped (optional)
1-2 lbs frozen sweet corn (as desired)
3 cloves garlic
1 pint cream
1 quart clam broth or water
1/2 gallon milk
pinch celery seed (optional)
3-4 tablespoons flour
1 stick butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
paprika, to taste
Thoroughly wash clams, scrubbing shells. If you're using freshly dug clams, sprinkle the washed clams with corn meal the night before use, and refrigerate overnight to allow the clams to be sand free.
On the day the chowder is to be prepared, steam, clean and shuck enough clams to have at least 2 quarts of clams (more is better!). Save the clam liquor (broth created while steaming). Refrigerate the cooked clams in their liquor.
Meanwhile, prepare the chowder base. Using a sharp knife, slice the salt pork (pancetta can be substituted) into 1/8" inch dice (including rind).
In a large stockpot, on the lowest heat setting, add salt pork to pan; add bacon (also chopped). Cook over low heat for 15 minutes, allowing salt pork to render. Remove from heat and allow to sit for another 15 minutes. Add olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter (save remaining butter for later).
Sauté thinly sliced celery (save green celery leaves for later), and sliced onion in the rendered salt pork and bacon until onions take on color, adding minced garlic during the final few minutes of browning. Add clam liquor or water, scraping browned onion bits from bottom of pan. Add 2 whole bay leaves and a pinch of celery seed, if desired. Add minced green onions or leeks. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Wash, peel and cut the potatoes into one inch cubes. Add to the pot, bring to a boil for 30 seconds, reduce heat to barely a simmer.
Chowder may be thickened with a small amount of all purpose flour, Wondra flour, or a few tablespoons corn starch stirred into a cup of cold broth. When adding thickeners, be sure to allow at least 30 minutes of cooking time in order to prevent an uncooked flour taste. More thickener can be added if you like a thicker chowder base; remember that milk/cream are still to be added later, so add more than you think you'll need to compensate.
After 20-30 minutes, check potatoes to see if they are tender. When potatoes are nearly done, add frozen corn. Be sure to use a good quality of frozen corn; the sweeter varieties improve the overall flavor of the chowder.
Stir in clams and strained clam liquor (be careful not to pour in the bottom of the clam liquor which usually contains sand! Add milk and cream in the ratio you desire; for a richer chowder, add more cream and less milk.
Simmer for another 15 minutes and add remaining butter, minced parsley, chopped green celery leaves and salt and pepper, to taste. Remove bay leaves (or simply don't let them make it into a serving!).
When butter has melted and clams are heated through, serve in warmed bowls, sprinkled with paprika and garnished with fresh parsley. Milk crackers are a traditional accompaniment.
Variations: To add additional flavor to this soup, especially when clam broth is not available, use a few teaspoons of clam base, available at restaurant supply stores. Large chunks of white fish or lobster can be added during the last 20 minutes in addition to (or as a substitute for) the clams, for a seafood chowder.