Heat a large stockpot over medium high heat. Add bacon and cook until brown and crispy, about 6-8 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate, reserving 1 tablespoon excess fat; set aside.
Melt butter in the stockpot. Add garlic and onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until onions have become translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in thyme until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Whisk in flour until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk, water and bay leaf, and cook, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in potatoes.
Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 12-15 minutes.
Stir in half & half and clams until heated through, about 1-2 minutes; season with salt and pepper, to taste. If the soup is too thick, add more water as needed until desired consistency is reached.
Serve immediately, garnished with bacon.
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