Shrink-My-Ass-Month: Clam Chowder Re-Boot

January 5, 2013


Thank Heavens the holidays are over! We had so many boxes and bags of cookies/candy that my teeth hurt just looking at them! As soon as the New Year began, I did a “pantry purge” and got rid of all that stuff. Not that I ate it, mind you, because I don’t have a sweet tooth, but (much to the dismay of my ass) we also were gifted with lots and lots of cheese. Good cheese. I think I grew a tail and whiskers this holiday season because I was in cheesy paradise.


So it’s time for yet another round of Shrink-My-Ass-Month! If you haven’t been around for previous SMAM’s, I’ll give you the scoop. Basically I’ll be sharing recipes that are on the lighter side of the spectrum, because my ass needs it and I’ll bet yours does, too. I’ll still be doing other writing in this space, but when I post a recipe this month, it won’t be Backside Suicide.

I thought I’d kick things off with New England clam chowder.


I know, I know–New England clam chowder is an ass-buster. Just look at Ina Garten’s recipe for chowder. Yeah, that is almost two sticks of butter you’re looking at. I don’t know about you, but I’m not wasting that kind of butt space on soup.

But New England clam chowder happens to be one of my husband’s favorite comfort foods, and it’s been colder than a witch’s tit in these parts. Comfort food was a-calling.

So I looked at dozens of recipes for clam chowder (4 cups of heavy cream, anyone?) and tried to think of ways I could tinker with the basic elements of clam chowder without completely ruining it. I just wanted a lighter outcome.

I decided to rely on a technique I learned this past year from my best buddy, Jacques Pepin. In Christmas 2011, Santa gifted me with his cookbook Essential Pepin.  Now Jacques is getting up there in age, so he’s recently taken a lot more interest in cooking fresh, healthy fare, and that’s a good thing. Because I learned some nifty tricks from that rascal.

One of his (and now my) favorite tricks is to thicken a soup by pureeing cooked potatoes/veg in the broth to give it heft, rather than making it creamy via roux or cream. It works, too! The soup tastes creamy but…no cream! I did cheat a little and add a bit of half-and-half at the end, because I wanted that silky mouth-feel that only dairy can provide, but that’s just my taste.

A few notes before I begin:

~If you are a New England clam chowder purist, skip this post and just vow to eat the real thing once or twice a year.

~If you like lots of chunks of potato in your chowder, just increase the amount of potatoes you use in this recipe.

~People are very particular about how thick they like their chowda. Personally, I don’t like ones that are so thick that it’s like eating wallpaper paste. But if you do like a super-thick chowder, I’ve got you covered. I’ll tell you how to get there. Follow the *s. And the TL’s. TL=thick lover.

~People are also a little persnickety about the size of the clams in their stew. Personally, I don’t like chopped clams in my chowder, so I use whole. However, if you like chopped clams, chop away! It’s just a texture issue, really.

~Chowder tastes good, looks ugly. Kind of like pot roast or smothered pork chops or stroganoff. Chowder doesn’t photograph sexy, which is why I spared you and put only one picture up.


After that lecture, do you even want to read this recipe?


I hope so, because it’s pretty darn good, and close enough to the real deal that my husband and Awesome stepkid R. didn’t know it was health-conscious. I’m calling it a win. This chowder re-boot won’t expand your booty, and it’s perfect for the chilly days ahead.



Less Lethal New England Clam Chowder

serves 6
1 slice center-cut bacon
olive oil, if needed
1 medium onion, chopped
3 fat cloves of garlic, minced
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
2 jars clam juice (found in the canned tuna aisle of the store)
1-2* cups low-sodium chicken stock (for TL, start with 1 cup stock and add if necessary during pureeing process)
1 lb yukon gold potatoes, diced and, if desired, peeled (add more if you like more potato in your chowder
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
20 ounces canned clams, drained or 1 1/2 pounds fresh or frozen clams, chopped if desired
1/2 cup dry white wine, like Pinot Grigio* (TL, hold off on this until you do a texture test; you may not need it)
1/2 cup to 2/3 cup half-and-half
dash of Old Bay seasoning (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped fresh parsley, for garnish and hot sauce, for serving on the side


In a large soup pot, cook the slice of bacon on medium heat until crisp. Remove from pan, reserving drippings. Add the vegetables and garlic, adding a bit more olive oil if necessary to get a good saute on them. Cook until tender and onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add clam juice, chicken stock, diced potatoes, thyme, bay leaves, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low/simmer.

After 15 minutes, check the potatoes. They should be tender but not falling apart. With a slotted spoon, remove 1/3 of the potatoes from the broth and set aside. Plop the lid back on the pot and cook for 10 more minutes, or until potatoes are very soft. Remove thyme and bay leaves.

~Judgment call alert! If you like chunks of veggies in your chowder, remove them with a slotted spoon when you remove the first batch of potatoes. If, as in our household, you only want chunks of potato and clam in your chowder, follow recipe instructions.

Puree the potato/veg/broth mixture, either via immersion blender or (in batches) a regular blender. Return to pot.

Check for texture.* If mixture seems too thick, add Pinot Grigio and additional chicken stock. If it seems to your liking, omit the Pinot Grigio.

Check for seasoning. Add Old Bay, if using, and salt and pepper to taste (go light on the salt though, because clams are salty)

Bring mixture back to a bubble and add clams and reserved potatoes. Simmer until heated through, 5-10 minutes.

~Judgment call #2: the amount of half-and-half you add at this point depends on your preferece eg: chowder consistency. Do add some, though, because it gives the chowder a silkiness that you won’t have if you don’t use it. 1/2 to 2/3 cup half-and-half for a big pot o’ chowder is quite a judicious amount.

Add half and half and warm through, about a  minute.

Check again for seasoning, top with parsley, and ladle into warm bowls.

Enjoy! Happy 2013! Wishing you happiness, a smaller ass, and zero assholery this year!

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexandra January 5, 2013 at 6:08 pm

You make me laugh.

Me and you both: powerless in the face of delicious, which is my problem with food: delicious.



Jane January 5, 2013 at 6:34 pm

My husband is from Boston and considers himself a connoisseur of clam chowder. He *thinks* he is a health nut. I say *thinks* because he would never dream of having clam chowder without all that butter and cream. I think I will try to slip this recipe onto our menu and see if he can tell the difference. I’m betting we can fool him with this one!


TKW January 5, 2013 at 7:56 pm


Tell your Bostonian Health Nut that I Googled the recipe for the chowder at the Union Oyster House. Believe me, he doesn’t want to know!


Foodiewife January 5, 2013 at 8:02 pm

Yep, I learned to thicken my soups with Yukon golds and it works great. I have no doubt this one is good. SMAM is fun to read. I’ll follow along, but follow it with one bite of a cookie, thank you.


TKW January 6, 2013 at 7:56 am


Nothing wrong with a bite of a cookie!


suzicate January 5, 2013 at 8:56 pm

I not only need to shrink my ass but my stomach, thighs, and everything else…any recipes for that or do you recommend starvation for me? I’d rather have your clam chowder!


TKW January 6, 2013 at 7:57 am


Just keep being so good (and you are!) with the exercise! I wish I was as motivated!


Sherri January 6, 2013 at 8:00 am

I forgot that Jan was annual “shrink your ass” month :). Good recipe. Way to start off the new year!


Jamie January 6, 2013 at 10:26 am

I’ve been logging mega gym hours in honor of Shrink My Ass Year. Somehow, my ass decided it needed 12 more pounds of real-estate dedicated to it in 2012. ICK!


Contemporary Troubadour January 6, 2013 at 11:15 am

I will hold off on participating in SMAM until after this baby gets here, but then — then!

This is assuming I will have the presence of mind to cook. Yesterday we butchered 6 whole chickens whose parts we shall cook in various ways over the next few days and then pop them all in the freezer. Does clam chowder freeze well or is that a bad idea? (I know from long-ago experience that potatoes in stew do not defrost prettily at all.)


TKW January 7, 2013 at 8:05 am


If you decide to freeze, I’d freeze the potato/broth mixture without the addition of the clams or the dairy. The dairy won’t freeze well and the clams get tough in the freezer, so I’d thaw the broth and add them before serving! When’s that baby coming out?


Contemporary Troubadour January 7, 2013 at 11:19 am

He’s due February 11th — but as of Friday, there were signs that he could be significantly earlier. I’ve been on rest all weekend to try to keep him in place until at least January 21st, which would put us at 37 weeks. Crossing our fingers!


TKW January 7, 2013 at 8:28 pm

My sweet CT,

Best wishes for you and little baby man. Cannot wait to meet him!


elizabeth January 6, 2013 at 7:13 pm

In both my newish Sicilian and Venetian cookbooks, both call for making thick dips or soups by pureeing most of the vegetables but saving some whole to keep the texture interesting. Since I have no personal ties to the original New England Clam Chowder I have no problem filing this away for something interesting and not-lethal to make, but don’t try lightening the Philly cheesesteak, because then we’d have to have some words. :)


TKW January 7, 2013 at 8:06 am


I think I’d have mutiny on my hands if I tackled the cheesesteak. :)


Arnebya January 6, 2013 at 7:53 pm

I’ve never been a chowda liker really. I like thick, creamy soups and I like clams, but the two together always seemed, well, blech. I made a potato soup for the first time this year and it came out so good that I think I can try this chowder (at least for my husband who adores it.)


TKW January 7, 2013 at 8:07 am


How did you know that baked potato soup is on the SMAM schedule? I’ve got a crazy recipe for it that I’m dying to try!


Heather January 6, 2013 at 8:07 pm

I am all over this recipe! I have been craving me some clam chowder like mad lately! I have also been avoiding it for the very reasons you listed. This is being added to my recipe list for next week. I’m also putting that cook book on my birthday wish list! Happy 2013 to you too my friend!


Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes January 7, 2013 at 7:55 am

The ass is fine, it is the stomach that needs the shrinking.
Still, no doubt this will benefit my stomach too…


TKW January 7, 2013 at 8:08 am


We all have our danger zone areas, don’t we? Mine used to be my stomach, but as I age, the problem areas have begun migrating South…


Barbara January 7, 2013 at 8:52 am

Hah. You fooled them with that bacon slice, I bet.
I’ve always loved your SMAM’s. And I’m with Tinne. My ass is NOT my problem. My tummy is. And I have a sneaky feeling that mean carbs and that means no potatoes. But that’s OK, I can still join in and smile at your posts this month. I’m back to working out now that the move has settled down a tad.
Tummy-be-gone! TBG month?


TKW January 7, 2013 at 8:24 pm


Leave the skin on the Yukon Gold potatoes and you are home free! Carbs, yes, but so much fiber that it’ll run through you like…ahem. :)


Justine January 7, 2013 at 9:01 am

I am a chowder lover and my ass could use some help, with all the cookies that I indulged this past holiday season. This looks like a great recipe. I’ve been a fan of pureeing soups to thicken for awhile now so why didn’t I think of it for chowder? Duh. Makes perfect sense.

Thanks, Kitch. Now on to the reduction of our collective backsides…


denise January 7, 2013 at 11:55 am

First things first: Colder than a witch’s tit is one of my all-time favorite weather descriptors, evah. And I also love the looks of shock (really!?) on people’s faces when I use it.

Secondly, my husband loves to make chowdah (and my ass and I love to eat it). I’m going to send him this recipe for his next cook-a-thon.

Happy new year to you, friend. xoxo


TKW January 7, 2013 at 8:26 pm


You crack me up. When are you guest posting in Jan.? Pretty please?


Lisa January 8, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Kitch, I have a few questions / comments,

Firstly, I love that you used the phrase “colder than a witch’s tit” (one of my husbands favourites) but wonder, is it not always colder than a kitchen witch’s tit? I always presumed the heat from your stove would keep you toasty warm. I however, am in Calgary, where it has been colder than a witch’s tit, arse, and various other extremities this holiday season, so I love nice warming recipe’s like this one.

Thanks for one that helps to ‘shrink your ass (or arse if you are me!), does it help shrink muffin tops and bingo wings too…… I really am in need of serious help.

Love that it is cream free as I adore cream soups, cream of mushroom, cream of chicken, cream of tomato, cream of cream of cream dammit!! However, as I get older, it would appear my digestive system is not quite as happy with the cream and I get heartburn that would have Satan himself reaching for the Rennie’s.

Lastly, I love the fact it has potato in such good measure. Let me be straight, I am from the UK, with Scottish and Irish ancestry. The potato is almost a holy foodstuff to me. The only time I have ever been given more potato than I could handle was on a visit to Dublin, where they served me with three kinds of potato – as a side to the main dish of lasagna! God, I loved Ireland!! Potato and Guinness, what more could a girl ask for?


faemom January 10, 2013 at 12:44 am

You’re amazing. (Said with the breathy sigh of a teenager over a teen idol.)


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