Clam Chowder

What do you do with a five pound bag of Manila clams from Costco?  I had visions of grilling them bathed with garlic butter.  This did not happen.  Instead, after two days in my refrigerator, I was getting a little nervous.  So, now we have a large vat of clam chowder.  I like my chowder thick with clams and thin on the potato.  I prefer a thinner soup rather than a super thick one.  This is my version laced with smoky bacon and rich clammy broth.
5 lbs Manila clams
4 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
3/4 cup dry white wine

12 oz bacon, chopped
5 celery stalks, chopped
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
4 medium red potatoes, diced into small 1/4" pieces
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cream sherry
8 cups clam juice / broth, plus reserved broth from cooking clams, about 10 cups total
1 cup half and half
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper or to taste

Heat a large pot over medium heat.  Add the 4 tbsp butter to melt, and then the garlic.  Saute until just fragrant.  Add the clams and then the wine.  Cover the pot and cook the clams until they just pop open.  Remove from heat, uncover and let cool. 
When cool enough to handle, remove clam meat into a bowl, discard shells and reserve the cooking broth for the chowder.  Throw out any un-opened clams.  This yielded about 2 cups of clams.
Brown bacon in a large heavy stock pot.  Then add the celery, onion, garlic and potatoes and sauté until celery and onion are softened and translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Then add the thyme and sage and sauté for another minute or so.  
Stir flour in and cook for another couple of minutes.
Deglaze with sherry, and then add the clam broth.  Stir to mix the flour roux and vegetables in well.  
Cover and bring to a boil.  
Add the half and half and the pepper and let boil, uncovered for another 5 minutes.  
When ready to serve, add the clams and cook just long enough to reheat them.  
Add salt if needed, though mine did not.  With the salt from the bacon and the broth from the cooked clams, there was enough salt.  
Creamy, clam goodness.


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