RECIPE: Frozen hash browns make for speedy clam chowder

Quick Clam Chowder. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Quick Clam Chowder. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Clam chowder makes for a hearty, comforting dinner this time of year. And, since clams — especially prep-free canned clams — are quick-cooking, this dish is a prime candidate for a 5:30 Challenge makeover.

The general method doesn’t require much tweaking once the ingredients list is pared down to the essentials. A thinly sliced leek sauteed in butter forms the aromatic base, and a combination of half-and-half and bottled clam juice create a just-rich-enough, briny broth. I like to use a few cans of chopped clams for this soup. They’re the Goldilocks of canned clams; minced clams are usually too small and tough while whole canned clams are too large. You can add them with their canning liquid for a further boost in flavor.

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The real trick to speeding up clam chowder is to decrease the potato cooking time. Dicing and boiling peeled potatoes will take close to 30 minutes, and that’s not accounting for cooking aromatics or simmering the clams and dairy. Instead of starting with fresh potatoes, use frozen hash browns. They don’t require any preparation (toss them in the soup straight from the freezer) and cook to tenderness in minutes. As a bonus, most store-bought hash browns are seasoned with onion and garlic powders, so they’ll bring more flavor to the chowder without the need for additional ingredients.

I like to garnish my chowder in the traditional manner, with a few oyster crackers and a sprinkle of fresh parsley. Hot sauce is also always welcome at my table. You can, of course, skip all of this if you’d rather keep things simple. Just don’t forget a generous grinding of black pepper.

Quick Clam Chowder
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large leek, white and light green parts only, halved and sliced into 1/4-inch-thick strips
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups half-and-half
  • 3 (6.5-ounce) cans chopped clams with their juice
  • 1 cup clam juice
  • 3 cups (12 ounces) frozen hash browns, straight from the freezer
  • On the side: Toppings, such as oyster crackers and fresh parsley
  • In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter is foamy, add the leek and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  • Stir in the half-and-half, clams and clam juice. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a rapid simmer. Add the hash browns and return to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the hash browns are tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and season to taste with salt and a generous amount of black pepper.
  • Serve topped with oyster crackers and parsley. Serves 4.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 659 calories (percent of calories from fat, 49), 43 grams protein, 40 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 36 grams total fat (21 grams saturated), 170 milligrams cholesterol, 509 milligrams sodium.
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