This lighter chowder is still plenty rich, thanks to a luscious milk broth.
Drain the clams, reserving 2/3 cup clam juice (discard the remaining juice).
Heat a Dutch oven over medium. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 7 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel–lined plate. Pour off all but 1 tbsp. of the drippings and return the pot to medium heat. Add the onion, celery, garlic and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften slightly, 3 to 4 minutes.
Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the reserved canned clam juice, potato cubes, bottled clam juice and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the potatoes are tender, 8 to 9 minutes.
In a medium bowl, whisk the milk and flour until smooth. Add to the pot and cook, stirring constantly, until chowder thickens, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the minced clams; cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Season with pepper. Divide the chowder among bowls and top with the bacon and oyster crackers.
Look Ma, No Cream! Many seafood shacks thicken their chowders with heavy cream or a roux made of flour, butter and milk, both of which add buckets of calories and fat. You can make an equally rich, delicious soup by whisking milk with a bit of flour. That simple swap helps you simmer up a chowder with 25 percent fewer calories and nearly 75 percent less fat!
Bring Home the Bacon: Use leaner center-cut bacon to get all the smoky, rich flavor with less fat.