If salt pork, potatoes, and onions define traditional New England clam chowder, then this one is a classic, save for the use of bacon instead of salt pork. There’s always a pot simmering at this shingled shack on Chatham Pier, ready to ladle into pints and quarts. While purists might protest the roux (a mixture of butter and flour) used as a thickener, this not-too-thick, not-too-thin creamy-briny chowder—full of fresh chopped clams, potatoes, bacon, and a hint of thyme—will win them over. Chowder master Doug Ricciardi’s secret? Keep it “old school” by using white pepper. Nothing fancy but mighty fine, especially eaten at the nearby picnic tables on a sunny day with a view of the water and seals swimming by.
Set a 4- to 6-quart pot over medium-low heat. Add the bacon and cook, turning occasionally, until crisp, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the bacon, leaving the fat in the pot, and crumble into small pieces; set aside. Add the butter, onion, celery, thyme, and bay leaves to the pot. Cook, stirring often, until onions are tender and translucent, 6 to 8 minutes. Return the bacon to the pot and stir. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the potatoes. In a 2- to 3-quart pot on high heat, boil the diced potatoes in salted water until tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Drain and set aside. Turning back to the onion/bacon mixture, increase the heat to medium-low. Add the flour gradually, stirring continuously, until a thick paste forms. Stir and cook 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and slowly add the bottled clam juice, 1 cup at a time, incorporating it into the mixture before adding more. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the potatoes and clam meat with its juices. Keep stirring 5 minutes, until the clams are tender. Add the cream slowly; then stir in the white pepper. Discard the bay leaves before serving. Serve hot.
45 Barcliff Avenue Extension, Chatham, MA 508-945-3474; chathampierfishmarket.com