I used to go clam digging on the beaches of Rhode Island years ago when my dad was doing a tour in Vietnam and we were living on the economy. When I say clam digging, I mean we went “treading” as Rhode Islanders call it. We waded knee-deep in the cold ocean water, and dug for quahogs by drilling our big toe straight down into the wet sandy bottom.
The quahog is the state shellfish of Rhode Island. Quahogs, also called chowder clams, are hard shell clams about 2-4 inches in size that are most often used in chowders and other clam dishes like stuffed clams. (In Florida, clams this big are used for bait.)
Unlike the tomato-based Manhattan clam chowder or the creamy white New England clam chowder, Rhode Island chowder is clear. It’s made with potatoes and quahogs and not much else, allowing the full flavor of the quahog to permeate the dish.
Rhode Island Quahog Chowder Recipe
- 12 cups clam juice
- 1/4 pancetta or salt pork
- 1/2 cup onion chopped
- 8 cups potatoes diced
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 3 cups cooked chopped quahogs
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme optional
- Wash quahogs under cold running water. Discard quahogs that are open or that have broken shells. Add about 2 inches of water to the bottom pot of a large steamer. Bring the water to a boil, then add the steamer basket holding the quahogs. Cover, and steam until quahog shells open, about 5 to 10 minutes. Once the shells open, remove from heat or quahogs will become tough. Discard any shells that did not open. When quahogs are cool, remove from shells and chop into small pieces.
- Meanwhile, wash potatoes, and dice. In a large pot, bring potatoes to a boil in generously salted water. Cook until tender. Remove from heat and drain.
- Sauté pancetta or salt pork until crispy. Remove from pan, if desired. Add onion to the pan; sauté until tender and translucent.
- Add remaining ingredients and simmer until heated through, about 10 minutes.
If using thin-skinned potatoes (like Publix Gold), wash with a scrub brush and do not peel. Tip: Cover extra sandy quahogs in salt and let rest for about an hour. The salt will help remove the sand. Use a scrub brush to remove salt and sand. Rinse well.