Here is an excerpt from the blog "My Daughter's Kitchen."
A few years working in New England gave me a taste of some of the best "chowda" I had ever eaten, both at little corner restaurants, seafood shacks on the Cape, and of course, at the famed Legal Sea Foods in Boston.
Everyone had their own version, but the best were smooth and rich soups, stocked with clams, potatoes, a little onion, and a healthy splash of cream.
Back in the Philadelphia area, I found it hard to find the same soup, as most restaurant renditions were dense and gloppy, thickened with flour and resonating with a strong flavor of bacon.
When trying to re-create my own, I found so many of the recipes also called for bacon. I tried leaving it out, and the broth was bland and missing that depth of flavor.
So how to create that rich broth?
The answer lies in salt pork. Made from the same cut as bacon, the little square looks very much like a block of unsliced bacon, but it is not smoked. Long used as a shipboard ration, it was used by New England's first settlers to "build" fish chowders in colonial times.
It has now replaced bacon in the most current clam chowder recipes, allowing me to re-create that wonderful flavor I tasted so long ago.
And even though the salt pork and heavy cream could not be considered the healthiest of ingredients, the amount required in the recipe is minimal, and both ingredients make a world of difference.
Yes, you can sub milk or half and half for the heavy cream, and replace salt pork with bacon. But if you want a taste of authentic New England chowder, please do not.