This chowder is thin and brothy, not thick and creamy. Other than that it is a recipe that goes back in my family probably a century or more. It is easy to make, with one exception, and it is an important one: You cannot allow this to boil, or even simmer, once the milk has been added. It will curdle. There are two ways to help stop this from happening. First, you can heat the milk and evaporated milk to steaming before adding it to the chowder pot. Or you can do what mom often does, which is to let the chowder base cool to room temperature before adding the milk and then reheating it; this process is called "ripening."
2poundspotatoes,about 3 to 4 cups, peeled and diced
1poundchopped clams,about 1 pint
A 12-ounce can of evaporated milk(do not use lowfat milk)
Black pepper to taste
In a large soup pot, heat the butter over medium heat and add the diced salt pork and onions. Fry this slowly until the the onions are soft and translucent. Do not brown the onions.
Mix in the potatoes and the clam juice and add enough water to just barely cover the potatoes. Bring this to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
When the potatoes are just about tender -- not completely cooked -- add the chopped clams and turn off the heat. Let this cool for at least 30 minutes. You can make this chowder base up to a day ahead if you'd like.
Once the chowder base is pretty cool (below 100°F), add the milk and evaporated milk and turn the heat on low. Gently bring the chowder up to eating temperature, and be very careful not to let it simmer. Add some freshly ground black pepper to taste and serve hot.
Resist the urge to add any herbs or spices other than black pepper to this chowder. New Englanders in general, and Mainers in specific, are as spare in their words as they are in their cooking.
A word on the clams. I am using gaper (horseneck) clams from California because that's what I have. A real Maine chowder uses quahogs, which are the dominant clam in markets on the East Coast. Canned clams are OK, too, although not as good.
Eat this chowder with Yankee cornbread -- mom calls it johnnycake -- and a salad.
Oh, and I'll leave this here as a final note:If you are scared of the possibility of your chowder curdling, skip the 3 cups of whole milk, add more clam broth or fish stock to replace it, and pour in at least a half pint of heavy cream. That's foolproof.