If you can't decide which chowder to make -- New England or Manhattan -- pick this one.
36 very large cherrystone clams (or 2 cups fresh clam bellies)
2 cups fresh clam juice from the clams (or bottled clam juice)
2 cups non-salty fish or chicken stock
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
3 medium leeks, white parts only, cut into thin rounds
2 celery stalks, minced
1/2 medium green bell pepper, minced
1/4 cup flour
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
28-ounce can tomatoes
1 heaping tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried) plus fresh thyme sprigs for garnish
1. Shuck the clams, if using fresh clams, reserving 2 cups of clam juice. Place the juice (or the bottled clam juice) in a small saucepan with the fish or chicken stock, and bring to a boil.
2. Melt the butter over moderately high heat in a large, heavy pot. Add the leeks, celery, and green pepper. Saute, stirring, for 10 minutes (do not allow to brown). Reduce heat to moderate and add the flour. Blend well, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Add the boiling clam juice and stock, and stir well. Add the potatoes. Mash each tomato in your hand over the soup pot, and drop the tomatoes into the soup. (Reserve tomato liquid in can for another use). Add thyme leaves. Simmer for 20 minutes.
3. While the soup is simmering, place 2/3 cup of clam bellies in the work bowl of a food processor and puree. Coarsely chop the remaining 1 1/3 cups of clam bellies.
4. When ready to serve, reduce heat and bring the soup down to a bare simmer. Vigorously stir in the clam puree. Place the coarsely chopped clams in a small saucepan with a ladleful of chowder, and heat for 20 seconds over low heat. Divide the chowder among 6 warm bowls. Top each bowl with some of the coarsely chopped clams and garnish with a sprig of thyme.
If you can't decide which chowder to make -- New England or Manhattan -- pick this one. Yes, it has a few tomatoes in it (the result is pinkish, not red), but it also has a New England kind of creaminess. Most important, the incredible technique of puréeing clams and adding them to the chowder creates the clammiest, deepest version of clam chowder you've ever tasted. For avowed clamheads only. Serves 6