Yes, Annalena preaches the fresh, the new, the farmers market direct to table approach to cooking. And some may find contradictions in what follows; however, you should read on. Should you determine that there is still a contradiction, so be it. Me? I'm going to go and have some soup.
"Chowder" is one of those words that has disputed meaning, like cioppino. I have heard several explanations of the word, and the one that I like best (for chowder), is that it is a derivation of an old French word for the type of pot used to cook the soup in. (While probably completely incorrect, Annalena loves the explanation of cioppino that says everyone "chipped in o").
Anyway, chowder is one of those American dishes where you can speak to 11 people, and get 11 different explanations on the "right" way to do it. I have seen New Englanders come close to blows over what is and is not appropriate for it (I am speaking now of the "white" clam chowder, which is really chowder in my book. Red clam chowder, or "Manhattan" clam chowder, in Annalena's book, is minestrone with clams in it). Some things seem certain: there must be a pork product in it: be it bacon, salt pork, slab bacon, ham, and so forth. There must also be a dairy component: milk, half and half, cream, and so forth. Clams: what kind of clams is one of the issues that brings up the cans in this recipe. The stock: fish, chicken, clam juice. Potatoes. Definitely. Now the fighting starts: pick a type from each category, then argue about thickener or not, then argue about the spices, and so on and so forth. As a result, "civilized" people write books. There are whole books on chowder. There are competitions. There are "samplers" at bad restaurants where you can get small portions of several different kinds. (You should avoid these restaurants if you can).
Now, we are only talking about CLAM chowder here, because there are corn chowders, lobster chowders, fish chowders, vegetarian chowders, and the list goes on. We will leave those to another day.
So, "clam." Seems like a simple word, huh? Ok, go to a good fish monger and ask for clams. You will be asked in turn "what kind of clams?" Cherrystones? Steamers? Quahogs? See, depending on the species, and the age, clams can range from the size of your thumb nail, to the size of your fists. And we're not even talking about geoduck (google a picture of it. Go ahead), abalone, and the other "giant" clams.
When I buy local clams, the only ones I can get are the small ones. In my view, they are unsuitable for chowder. They toughen, and quite honestly, if you are going to make a good chowder, you need LOTS of clams. So, you can bring back 60 clams, steam them open, burn your fingers, chop them and then when the soup is finished, find them as tough as erasers.
The big clams - the ones from the shells you find at the beach- are rightfully called "chowder" clams sometimes. They are big, tough and interestingly enough, when cooked tenderize, unlike the smaller ones. So.... you can cart four dozen of these back home, try to steam them open (GOOD LUCK), and repeat as above.
NOW do we see why Annalena uses canned clams? Yes, it is an exception, but I will abide by it and I suggest you do the same.
In the pork product category, I prefer smoked bacon. Thinner slices rather than thick ones, because I want the flavor, but not a strong presence.
Dairy: half and half. Cream is WAY too rich. Milk is okay, but just falls a little short, in my view.
Potatoes: yukon golds or russets please. You could use any soup potato, to be honest. They hold their shape, and you want that here.
Thickener: yes, Annalena uses flour in her chowder. Not a lot of it, but some.
Seasoning: I prefer thyme. The standard is bay leaf, which I find overwhelms the clams a bit. You might try marjoram, or savory, if you can find it.
Ok, so now that the controversies are discussed, let's cook. Here's a recipe that will make you a good, solid 3 quarts of chowder.
You need 24 ounces of clam juice (I forgot: I like this better than any other liquid). Also, a pound of potatoes, which you must peel and cut into chunks. Bite sized ones. You will need 2 tablespoons of butter, and a quarter pound of bacon, which you cut into small piece. Also, two onions, peeled and chopped, a cup of chopped celery OR, fennel (in my opinion, better, but this is not shared), a few sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped, a third cup of flour, and canned clams. As many as you like. Finally, a pint of half and half.
Now, let's cook. I love this step. Put the potatoes in a pot with the clam juice, and bring it to a simmer. Cover, and let it cook for about ten minutes. (Isn't that interesting: cooking the potatoes in the clam stock).
While this is cooking, melt the butter in a pot that will eventually be your soup pot, and add the bacon. Cook it slowly for about 6 minutes.
Now, this next step is untraditional, but I think it makes the soup better. You will have a LOT of fat when you cook the bacon in the butter. I poured a quarter cup of it off when I made mine, and traditionally, you do not pour off that fat. It just seemed too "fatty" to Annalena. Pour it all off, except for two tablespoons or so, add the bacon back and add the vegetables and the herbs. Saute' everything for about five minutes and then add the flour. Cook it for a couple of minutes.
While this is cooking, open your clams, drain them and save the juice. After you've cooked the flour, pour the reserved juice in, and stir it together. Watch how it thickens slightly. Or more than slightly. Now, add the potatoes and the clam juice, the clams, and the half and half. Stir it all together. Again, it will thicken a bit, but not all that much. The potatoes are going to carry that for you. Bring the heat down, simmer for five minutes and taste. You might need salt, maybe not. I think you will want pepper. White pepper is traditional. I feel that it tastes like shredded paper. Use black pepper.
And there it is. I like to use a lot of clams, but it's really up to you. Be generous, and then share it.
Maybe cornbread with it? Or popovers? If you're a chowder fan, I would love to know what bread you serve with it.