For the chowder:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1/3 pound lean bacon, chopped
4 large ears corn on the cob, kernels cut off and cobs scraped
2 tablespoons seafood seasoning, such as Old Bay
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3-4 small ribs celery with leafy tops, chopped
2 fresh bay leaves
2 jalapeño or Fresno chili peppers, chopped or thinly sliced
1 red onion, chopped
4 cups chicken stock
3-4 heirloom tomatoes, chopped
4 pounds littleneck clams, scrubbed
1 bottle lager beer
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Hot sauce, for serving
For the croutons:
3 English muffins, chopped into bite-size cubes
1/2 stick butter (4 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons hot sauce
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon seafood seasoning, such as Old Bay
Pre-heat the oven to 350°F.
For the chowder: In a soup pot or a Dutch oven, heat the EVOO over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the corn and cook until the kernels are lightly browned at the edges, 6-8 minutes. Add the seafood seasoning, thyme, garlic, celery, bay leaves, chili peppers and onion and cook until softened, 6-8 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat.
For the croutons: Arrange the English muffin cubes on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Toast in the oven until light golden. Melt the butter with the hot sauce. Place the croutons in a bowl and toss with the parsley, seafood seasoning and the butter mixture. Return to the rack set over the baking sheet and bake until deeply golden. Let cool.
To finish the chowder: Place the clams and beer in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid, and season with sea salt and pepper. Cover and bring to a boil, then cook at a rapid simmer until the clams open, 3-5 minutes. Discard any unopened clams.
Divide the clams and the cooking liquid among four shallow bowls. Ladle the corn chowder over top and garnish with the croutons. Serve with hot sauce.
Cook's Notes: You can make the chowder base up to 5 days ahead. Cool and store in the refrigerator, then reheat over a medium flame. Buy the clams within 48 hours of serving and cook them just before you're ready to serve.