3 cups water or fish stock (see Note below)
1 cup dry white wine
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 bay leaf
2 to 3 thyme sprigs
1 Italian parsley sprig
6 to 8 pounds littleneck clams, cherrystone clams or cockles, washed in running water
4 ounces bacon, diced
1 large or 2 medium white onions, cut into small dice
2 to 3 potatoes (2 pounds), peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley
-Black pepper in a mill
-Sourdough bread, hot
Put the water or fish stock and wine in a large soup pot, add the garlic, bay leaf, thyme and parsley and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat so the liquid simmers, add the clams or cockles, cover the pot and steam until the clams open, about 8 to 10 minutes, or a bit longer.
Remove the lid and use a slotted spoon to transfer the clams to a wide shallow bowl to cool.
Meanwhile, strain the cooking liquid through several layers of cheese cloth, reserving the liquid and discard the aromatics.
When the clams are cool enough to touch, remove the cooked clams from their shells. Chop the clams into ½-inch pieces; if using cockles, leave them whole. Set them aside.
Cook the bacon in a heavy saucepan set over medium heat until it is almost but not quite fully crisp. Transfer the bacon to absorbent paper.
Cook the onions in the bacon fat over low heat until they are very limp and fragrant, about 18 minutes. Season lightly with kosher salt. Add the reserved cooking liquid and the potatoes, bring to a boil over medium heat, lower the heat and simmer gently until the potatoes are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Use an immersion blender to puree a small portion of the soup by inserting the blender near the side of the pot and moving it in a small circular motion; puree no more than one-quarter of the soup.
If you do not have an immersion blender, press a ladleful or two of the potatoes through a strainer or food mill.
Stir in the clams or cockles and the bacon and simmer five minutes. Add the cream and the parsley and simmer very gently until heated through. Season very generously with black pepper and remove from the heat.
Ladle into soup bowls and serve with hot bread alongside.
Note: To make fish stock, put 3 pounds fish heads, tails and bones that have been rinsed in several changes of cold water into a stock pot, along with a yellow onion cut in quarters, the white part of one leek, 2 inner stalks of celery and 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Add 1 cup dry white wine and 7 cups water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
Remove from the heat, cool slightly and strain into a clean container. Store, covered, in the refrigerator and use within three days or freeze for up to 3 months.
Variation: If you do not want to use bacon, simply omit it and saute the onions in 3 tablespoons butter. Taste the chowder after adding the cream and correct for salt.
There are layers of smoky flavor in this voluptuous chowder, from the bacon, from the chipotle and from the smoked salmon. If you're looking for the purity of Boston-style clam chowder, this is not the recipe for you. However, if you like the combination of brine, heat and smoke, accented by the refreshing flourish of cilantro, you'll love this chowder.