Clam & fennel chowder

Mother Nature must like Chicago in the world of winter, so the idea of a big bowl of chowder remains a great weeknight option even as we approach the middle of April

The foundation of any good soup is a mire poix (onions, carrots and celery) that is well-cooked to bring out the flavors which in turn flavors the soup

In my version of Clam Chowder, fennel bulb replaces the celery, but less you think “Mr. Celery” has gone mad, fresh celery leaves are included in the saute and the chowder is garnished with the same

If you don’t have rendered bacon fat on hand, cook 3 slices to get 4 tablespoons of fat; then, if desired, garnish the chowder with the diced bacon

Ingredients
4 tablespoons rendered bacon fat
2 cups diced onion
2 cups diced fennel bulb
1/2 cup diced carrot
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons House salt
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill
1/3 cup fresh celery leaves, plus additional for garnishing
4 cups peeled and diced boiling potatoes
1 quart clam juice, warmed in a saucepan
8 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup flour
2 cups Half & Half
3 cups cleaned and trimmed chowder clams, about the same dice as the potatoes
Pinch of cayenne, optional

Method
Heat the bacon fat in a large Dutch oven until shimmering. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are translucent. Add the fennel, carrot, thyme, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the simmering clam juice and celery leaves and stir to incorporate. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until the carrots are tender, 10 to 12 minutes

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan, sprinkle in the flour and whisk to combine and cook for 3 minutes. Add a ladle-full of the stock to the roux (the butter-flour mixture) and whisk to incorporate. Add the roux to the soup and stir to incorporate and simmer until the chowder has thickened, 2 minutes

Add the Half & Half and the clams (and cayenne if using), stir to incorporate and simmer for 2 minutes. Taste for salt, freshly ground black pepper and cayenne

Ladle chowder into bowls and garnish with fresh celery leaves

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