Ocracoke Clam Chowder

So we’ve been on vacation for the past two weeks, and what counts as local eating has been a bit different from normal… Over the past several decades, we have vacationed on Ocracoke Island in North Carolina, and every year, we make Ocracoke Clam Chowder. 

The path to chowder requires some hard work, however.  For those of you unfamiliar with Ocracoke, it is famous as Blackbeard’s favorite hiding place, and as one of the greatest beaches in the world.  The reason for both of these facts is that it’s not easy to get to for most of us.  For those of us in Northern Virginia, you have to drive 7-8  hours just to get to the ferry, which after a 40 minute crossing will get you to Ocracoke. Once you get there, however, the pace of living slows dramatically, and life becomes all about sleeping, reading, going to the beach, and eating…!  Hours are spent planning what to bring with us to prepare, but we always know that at least one of our nights will be a seafood feast, anchored by Ocracoke Clam Chowder.

On an overcast morning, midway through our holiday, the boys and men of the family slather on sunscreen and bug repellent, head over to Tradewinds, rent clam rakes, and then head over to their favorite spot on the Pamlico Sound to get the clams for dinner.  While there is often discussion of where that favorite spot actually is, (not here, but it’s an awfully great picture of the Sound), they eventually get there. 

And then, they begin to search.  The little boys will use their feet and hands to seek out the clams, but are typically in charge of the cooler, and the larger boys and men use the rakes.  Quotas of clam acquisition are always set, and are generally exceeded.  This year, the group brought back 107 clams (the little boys contributed 6 clams to this process, the large boy got 22, and the one adult male at the beach is responsible for the rest).  Here’s the haul. 

Since we had a small group this year (only 8 of us), there were more than enough clams to make a chowder to feed us all.  

After the clams are brought back to the house, they need to be rinsed, and placed in the fridge for several hours. Now is a good time to go to the beach.  When you get back, you can easily open the clams (for clams on the half shell with lemons and hot sauce as a treat during the chowder preparation), and put the remainder in a pot of water on the stove to steam open.  While they steam open, there’s quite a bit of chopping to be done (onions, potatoes, corn).

After a bit of time, the clams will open,

and then it’s time to extract the clams from the shells.

After all that, the 107 clams look like this:

And it’s time to put all of the ingredients (clams, potatoes, onions, corn) in 6 quarts of water, and let them bubble gently.  And then you add some fried salt pork to the pot, and you wait.

And then, you eat:

Accompanied by sautéed shrimp caught by local fishermen in the morning, and fresh corn bread, it was indeed a Seafood Feast.

And for those of you wondering, the Picky Eater had macaroni and cheese with her cornbread. Sigh…

Following the basic recipe by Edna O’Neal that is laid out in the Ocracoke Cook Book, here’s the version of Ocracoke Clam Chowder we made this year.

Prepare the ingredients below:  

  • 3 lbs. potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 4 ears of corn, kernels cut off
  • 2 onions, peeled and chopped
  • 3 pints clams, chopped
  • 6 quarts water
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. salt

Bring the above ingredients to a boil and then simmer about 2 hours.  Meanwhile, fry out 2 thick slices of salt pork.  Add pork and grease to the above; cover.  Stir occasionally.  If water gets low, add a little hot water.  When potatoes are tender, clams are ready.

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4 Responses to “Ocracoke Clam Chowder”

  1. I am not much of a clam fan, but the photos and the preparation are lovely. It sounds like it is a fun family projects.

  2. I am definitely officially nostalgic!!!


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