I lived in New England for 8 years and miss the incredible seafood there. Maine lobster fresh from the ocean, soft shell steamer clams and amazing chowders. There’s nothing quite like it in my new hometown, so I do the next best thing and make it myself. This oyster chowder with corn and bacon is reminiscent of one in a restaurant near Marblehead that isn’t there anymore. It has big chunks of fresh oysters and lots of sweet corn. They are an amazing combination.
Chowder really is one of the best comfort foods. It’s creamy and rich, best served with crackers or some crusty bread. I like to get a big bowl and alternate bites of soup with bites of French bread soaked in the rich broth. Then you clean up the bottom of the bowl with one last swipe of buttered bread. This is not a soup for dieters. The best way to make this is to have some fresh shucked oysters. Please use them if you can. If you’re like me though, shucking oysters in my kitchen just isn’t an option with a baby under foot. My supermarket has containers of fresh oysters for a very decent price. They work just fine for chowder, without all the mess. Another difficult-to-find ingredient is fish stock. I make my own from leftover fish bones and shrimp shells and store it in the freezer just for recipes like this. If you don’t have fish stock, you can use any combination of clam juice, chicken broth or vegetable broth.
Strain the oysters, reserving the liquid. Check oysters for any shells and chop them into large chucks if they are very big.
In a large pot, cook bacon over medium heat until brown and crispy. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan. Add butter, onion, celery and garlic to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Season with salt, Old Bay seasoning and bay leaf. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir. Cook for 5 minutes more.
Gradually add the milk, wine and seafood stock (or substitute) and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and lower the heat to simmer for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are fork tender. Stir in the cream, corn and parsley. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add in the oysters and their liquid and cook for about 2 minutes more. Add lemon juice. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.