If you're in the mood for New England comfort food, you can't go wrong with clam chowder. Purists say that New England clam chowder must be made with salt pork, but if you don't have any you can use bacon for a tasty variation. If you like creamier chowder, substitute half and half for the milk.
Cook and stir the salt pork (or bacon) and onion until the onion is soft (and the bacon is crisp if you used bacon. If so, remove it now and reserve. Actually, who would discard bacon?).
Drain the clams, reserving the liquid. Add the liquid, potatoes, bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper to the salt pork/onion mixture. Heat to a boil, then lower heat, cover, and simmer until the potato is very soft (10 - 15 minutes). If you need more liquid you can add some clam juice or water.
Add the milk and clams, stirring occasionally until they are heated through.
Adjust seasoning to your taste.
If you used bacon, crumble the pieces to garnish the chowder.
Serve with oyster crackers and enjoy!
I couldn't find salt pork so used bacon, which I left in the pot instead of removing for garnish. If you'd rather keep for garnish, cook it separate from the onions.
RE: Clam juice. Reserve and use only if the canned clams don't contain enough liquid. I'm used to West Coast type of chowder that is super thick (a spoon can practically stand up in it), so after adding the milk, I allowed the chowder to simmer until thickened. Be sure to stir constantly so that the chowder doesn't scorch. If you like thick chowder, chop the potato into large chunks as it will break down as it simmers.