The last of my mother-in-law’s red potatoes, grown this year, and a Yukon Gold as well. The skins on both were a bit worse for wear, and so the potatoes ended up mostly peeled.

Years ago I took a class taught under the nutrition department at San Jose State University. The professor was really just a foodie (an expression that likely hadn’t been invented yet) and the class turned out to be a grown up version of home ec, where we explored different ethnic cuisines both across the US and world-wide. For the final, we wrote up and prepared for the class a dish that represented our own ethnic heritage. It was one of the best classes I took during my first stint in college.

Ready for the stock.

This was where I first learned to make clam chowder. I had always been a fan, and it turned out it just wasn’t that difficult to make. Then I branched out to corn chowder, potato chowder, fish/salmon/seafood chowder and had a revelation. Basic chowder has these ingredients:

  • Bacon
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Some kind of Dairy for creaminess
  • Thyme and Bay Leaf (at least in my world)

Pantry staples, quick to make, healthy if you go easy on the bacon and cream. What’s not to love? So, without further ado…

Seasonal Chowder as you like it
Makes enough to serve 2 with leftovers

(All amounts are approximate. Really like bacon? Add more. Hate celery? Leave it out. You get the idea. You really can’t mess this up.)

  • 2 slices bacon
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 small carrot, diced (optional)
  • 1 small celery, diced (optional)
  • 1 cup or more other veggies as desired (corn,  green chiles etc.)
  • 2 small cans (6.5 oz) clams, drained. Reserve juice (clam chowder only). Substitute some smoked salmon or other fish/shellfish if you like.
  • 1 8 oz bottle clam juice (seafood based chowder only)
  • 4 cups chicken or veggie stock (if NOT making clam/seafood chowder)
  • 2 medium potatoes, diced (I like red, because they hold up well, but use what you have on hand)
  • 1 tsp dried thyme (or a few sprigs fresh if you have it)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Ground pepper to taste
  • Salt to taste (stocks, bacon and clam broth can contain a lot of salt, so taste and see if you need more. You many not.)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup cream, half and half, whole milk, low-fat milk or evaporated milk. (I use low-fat to save on calories and because I find cream way to heavy unless you only want to eat a 1/2 cup serving).

Dice bacon and cook in large pot over medium heat until crisp and fat has rendered. Remove bacon (set aside) and discard all but about 1 tbsp of fat. Saute onion (and carrot/celery if using) in bacon fat until translucent. Add liquid (clam broth or chicken/veggie stock), potatoes, herbs and spices and other veggies, if using. Simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Mash a bit if you want more body and fewer chunks. Add in clams (or other seafood, if using), dairy and reserved bacon. Taste and correct seasoning. Heat through, about 5 minutes. Serve with a sprinkling of fresh parsley and fresh black pepper or a bit of parmesan cheese. Fresh baked cornbread muffins, french bread or crackers optional.

Ready for a cold winter’s night. To make green chile/cheddar corn muffins, just add a handful of grated cheddar cheese and a 3 oz can of diced green chiles to your favorite corn bread recipe and bake in a muffin tin (reduce cooking time). Easy!

Notes: I don’t make a regular habit of eating bacon on its own, because I have no willpower and the fat content is high. If I cook it, I eat it. Yet I almost always have some on hand to use as a flavor boost in chowders, chilis and stews. So when I buy bacon (if I haven’t made my own) I freeze it. Because of the fat, it is pretty easy to cut off a chunk even when frozen and lasts up to a year in a zip top freezer bag.

I prefer my potatoes with the skins intact. I like the flavor and the nutritional/fiber boost you get from leaving them on. But be sure to cut off any skin that has a green tinge. This is caused by a reaction with light that produces a natural toxin called solanine  just under the skin. You really shouldn’t eat it.

I blanch and freeze corn, cut off the cob, when it has achieved perfection (and is dirt cheap) in the summer. I then have it on hand for just this kind of dinner in the middle of winter.

I made this particular batch of chowder with roasted green chiles that I bought and froze while in Southwest Colorado. The chiles were supposed to be of medium heat, but they are wicked hot, so it is taking us a lot of time to use them up.

I’m a big fan of organic “Better than Bouillon” in place of chicken stock, if I haven’t made my own. Since one jar gives me 38 cups of broth, it saves me a lot of cans and cartons of stock from the store, and while I haven’t done a taste comparison, I think it works just fine.

Miles Away Farm Blog © 2011, where we were hoping that the milk in the green chile corn chowder would help cut the heat, which it did, but we still needed a tissue nearby to wipe our nose.