Thomas Keller’s Clam Chowder

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  • Thomas Keller’s Clam Chowder in a bread bowl and a glass of beer on a side.

    San Francisco Bay Area has been sunny and warm around 60F and I kind of forgot that some of readers are experiencing cold winter.  Before spring comes along, I want to share some winter recipes that I enjoy.  One of our favorite western soup is clam chowder.  There is something magical about warm delicious clam chowder served in a bread bowl.  It’s a hit or miss at most restaurants when we order it but more often than not, every restaurant proclaims that their clam chowder is the “award winning”.


    Clam Chowder in a bred bowl on a white plate and a glass of beer on a side.

    The recipe we want to share with you today comes from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home cookbook.  We adapted a little bit so you can still consider it’s his soup rather than mine.  It takes some time to prepare as it requires tedious steps, however, don’t worry as it is all worth it at the end when  you have this chowder.  The key is make sure you use fresh clams instead of frozen or canned clams.

    Clam Chowder in a bread bowl and beer on a white table.

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    Thomas Keller's Clam Chowder
    Thomas Keller’s Clam Chowder
    Prep Time
    15 mins
    Cook Time
    2 hrs
    Total Time
    2 hrs 15 mins
    Creamy clam stew made with smoked bacon and fresh clams, serve it in a sourdough bread bowl. This clam chowder is comforting, filling and amazingly delicious! 
    Course: Main Course, Soup
    Cuisine: American
    Keyword: chowder, clam stew
    Servings: 6
    Author: Nami
    • 3 lbs littleneck clams
    • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
    • 6-7 slices thick wood smoked bacon (cut into 1" slices)
    • 5 cloves garlic (minced)
    • 2 cups onions (coarsely chopped)
    • 2 cups leeks (white and light green parts only, coarsely chopped)
    • 4 potatoes (peeled and cut into 1" cubes)
    • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter (separated)
    • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
    • 3 cups whole milk
    • 3 cups heavy (whipping) cream
    • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter (separated)
    • 4 shallots (chopped)
    • 2 sprigs thyme
    • Sea salt (to taste)
    • Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
    • ½ cup dry white wine
    • 3 Tbsp chives (finely chopped, for garnish)
    Aromatics (See Notes):
    • 10 peppercorns
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 2 sprigs thyme
    • 1 cloves garlic (smashed)
    1. Gather all the ingredients. Make sure to degrit the clams.
      Thomas Keller's Clam Chowder Ingredients
    2. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in an 8 to 10 quart stockpot over medium heat. Add the bacon, reduce the heat to low, and let the fat render for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring from time to time; the bacon should color but not crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon from the pan.
      Thomas Keller's Clam Chowder 2
    3. Add the garlic, onion, and leeks to the pan and stir to coat with bacon fat.
      Thomas Keller's Clam Chowder 3
    4. After leeks are coated with oil, sprinkle with salt, cover with Otoshibuta (drop lid) (I was surprised to see his recipe requires this Japanese technique!), and cook very slowly for 30 to 35 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Remove and discard lid.
      Thomas Keller's Clam Chowder 4
    5. Prepare Sachet. Wrap seasonings in cheesecloth and tied up with cooking twine.
      Thomas Keller's Clam Chowder 1
    6. Put the potatoes, sachet, and 2 tsp salt in a large saucepan, add cold water to cover, bring to a simmer, and cook until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and spread on a tray to cool; discard the sachet.
      Thomas Keller's Clam Chowder 5
    7. When the vegetables are tender, increase the heat to medium and add the butter. Once the butter has melted, stir in the flour to coat the vegetables and cook for 2-3 minutes to take away the raw flour taste.
      Thomas Keller's Clam Chowder 6
    8. When flour is coated with vegetables, whisk in the milk and cream, season to taste with salt and pepper, and bring to a very low simmer.
    9. Melt the 2 Tbsp butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and thyme sprigs, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute, until the shallots are tender. Add the wine, bring to a boil, and cook for 2 minutes to evaporate some of the alcohol.
      Thomas Keller's Clam Chowder 8
    10. Add the clams, cover the pan, and cook for about 4 minutes, removing the clams as they open.
      Thomas Keller's Clam Chowder 9
    11. Strain all the clam liquid through a fine-mesh conical strainer into a bowl. Shell the clams and set aside.
      Thomas Keller's Clam Chowder 10
    12. Gently stir clam liquid into the soup (avoid any sand that may have settled in the bottom of the bowl).  Season the chowder with salt and pepper to taste.
      Thomas Keller's Clam Chowder 11
    13. Gently stir in the clams and potatoes.
      Thomas Keller's Clam Chowder 12
    14. Spread the bacon in a small frying pan and crisp over medium-high heat. Garnish the soup with the bacon and the chives.
    Recipe Notes

    Equipment you will need:

    • Sachet (for Aromatics)


    Adapted from "Clam Chowder with Bacon" in Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller.


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