Bacon, cream and herbs make beautiful companions for clams in this Maine-style clam chowder with its simple broth and lovely, light flavor. Fresh clams give this chowder the best flavor, but if you don't live by the seashore or can't find them in your local market, you can always substitute canned clams and it'll come out just fine.Serve this chowder right away with plenty of chopped fresh herbs and crusty loaf of buttered sourdough bread. If you have leftovers, you can store them in the fridge up to two days, taking care to reheat the chowder gently and slowly over a low temperature.
Place the clams in a large stock pot, and pour in a quart of water. Cover the pot, and bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Steam the clams until they open, about 10 minutes. Discard any clams that stay closed after 15 minutes.
Strain the broth into a pitcher through a fine-mesh sieve, and allow the clams to cool until they're comfortable enough to handle. Pluck the meat from each clam and place it onto a cutting board. Discard all the shells, and coarsely chop the clam meat.
Melt the bacon fat in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Drop the chopped bacon into the pot, and allow it to crisp in the hot fat - about 5 minutes. Stir in the celery and onion, and then sprinkle them with sea salt. Cover the pot, allowing the vegetables to sweat in the pot about until they release their fragrance and soften.
Add the potatoes and chopped clam meat to the pot, and then pour in the reserved clam broth. Pour in an additional 4 cups water, drop in the bay leaf, and then simmer the chowder until the potatoes soften and yield easily when pierced by a fork.
Use a slotted spoon or a pair of kitchen tongs to pluck the bay leaf out of the chowder, and then stir in the heavy cream. Taste the soup, adjusting the seasoning as needed. And then ladle the chowder into bowls, topping it with chopped fresh herbs.
Don't have fresh clams? You can use canned clams. Just substitute 3 (6.5 oz) cans clams with their juice.
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