Clam Chowder

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Repeat after me, “Chow-DAH!” That’s the way it should be said, if you are anywhere in the vicinity of New England, which is the birthplace of this wonderful clam stew. The word “chowder” is thought to have been derived from “chaudière”, an old French term for cauldron, or a big cooking pot. Traditionally chowder is made with salt pork, onions, potatoes, milk or cream, butter, and fish like cod or haddock, or clams. Many of the older recipes add some wine (Madeira) as well. There’s a wonderful website I recommend called The New England Chowder Compendium which showcases a collection of historical chowder recipes dating back to the 1700s. Chowder is one of those things that is made in many different ways, and pretty much everyone thinks their way is best. It’s worth noting that the variations of this stew go back hundreds of years!

On a recent trip to Massachusetts, we sampled clam chowders at practically every stop. The best one we had, in my opinion, was at a little coffee shop in Concord, Mass. The soup was creamy, but not overly so (some clam chowders can be such cream bombs), thickened a little with flour, but not too much, and with tasty chunks of what appeared to be salt pork, and lots of corn in addition to chopped clams. I loved it! Corn isn’t usually included in clam chowder, but believe me, it’s fabulous.

Here is my take on clam chowder, with plenty of suggestions for substitutions. Even my dad, who insists he doesn’t like clam chowder, loved this soup. Consider the recipe a guideline, and play with it to your liking.

Speaking of which, how do you like your clam chowder? Please let us know in the comments.

Clam Chowder Recipe

  • Prep time: 30 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 8.

This recipe uses fresh clams. If you don't have access to fresh clams, you can use clam juice and canned chopped clams. In that case, skip steps 1 and 2 and use 16 oz of clam juice, and 1 1/2 to 2 cups of chopped clams, saving the liquid from the cans to add to the clam juice. Salt pork is traditional, it's like slab bacon that hasn't been smoked. You can easily substitute with bacon, or pancetta. If you don't use salt pork, you may need to add more salt to the soup. The flour is a thickener. If you are cooking gluten-free or want a thinner consistency to your soup, leave it out. If you want a thicker soup, add more flour.


  • About 4 lbs of littleneck or cherrystone clams (about 3 dozen clams or so, depending on the size)
  • 1 Tbsp butter or vegetable oil
  • 4 ounces salt pork, cubed (or chopped bacon or pancetta, cubed)
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 Tbsp flour (or more, depending on how thick you want the soup)
  • 1 cup dry white wine, like a Sauvignon blanc (or you can use 2 Tbsp of white or cider vinegar, or lemon juice)
  • 2 pounds potatoes (russets or Yukon gold), peeled and diced
  • 1 to 2 cups of water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning (or paprika with a dash of cayenne)
  • 1 1/2 cups corn (frozen is fine) optional
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley


1 Rinse and scrub the clams to remove of any dirt. Place clams in a bowl, cover with cold water and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour. This will allow the clams to expel some of their grit into the water. Discard any broken clams or clams that are open and do not close when you touch them.


2 Steam the clams. Place the clams in a large pot and add about a half inch of water to the pot. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Let the clams steam until they all open up, 5 to 10 minutes. The steaming water may foam up a bit, so watch so it doesn't overflow the pot. Use a slotted spoon to remove the clams from the pot to a bowl. Strain the remaining clam steaming liquid through a fine mesh sieve to catch any grit, and reserve. You should have 2 to 3 cups of clam liquid. Separate the clams from the clam shells. Discard the shells. Roughly chop the cooked clams.


3 Place the salt pork and butter or oil in the bottom of a large, thick-bottomed pot. Heat on medium and brown the salt pork. (Note that if you are using salt pork that is mostly fat, you won't need any additional fat from butter or oil, but you might want to put a little water in the pan to help render the fat from the salt pork.)


4 Add the chopped onion to the pan, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle flour over the onions and stir until everything is coated with the flour. Let the flour cook for a minute or two. Slowly add the white wine to the pot, stirring after each addition.


5 Add potatoes to the pot. Add 2 to 3 cups of the strained clam steaming liquid and a cup of water. The liquid should cover the potatoes. If not, add a little more, either water or clam cooking liquid. Add the bay leaf, thyme, black pepper, and Old Bay. Heat to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, then add the corn (if using) and cook for 5 minutes more, or until the potatoes are cooked through.


6 While the potatoes are cooking, heat a cup of cream in a small saucepan until steamy. When the potatoes are tender, add the chopped clams and turn off the heat of the soup. Slowly stir in the heated cream. Adjust seasonings. Stir in the fresh parsley.

Serve with oyster crackers or rustic bread.

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Clam Chowder, Mom, and Memories - a Maine clam chowder by Hank Shaw
Down East Clam Chowder - from Yankee Magazine
New England Clam Chowder from Chef John of Food Wishes
How to clean the sand out of clams - tips from thekitchn
What's the difference between little neck, cherry stone, and quahog clams - also from thekitchn
The New England Chowder Compendium - collection of historical chowder recipes dating back to the 1700s.

Showing 4 of 47 Comments

  • Alexander

    I’m from Maine. Let the ole lady try this recipe spite by ole’ fashion ways and it tasted like charcole. Either she cooked it too long or she did something ele wrong, but It was the worst ever. Simple rule from Maine. Don’t add anyhting but maybe potatoes. God I want clam chowder… Not salt pork chowder. Just never add anything but sea food too a chowder. My boss is a 40 year+ Chef and He would throw it away. The one time I regret not paying attention. Salt pork no! Milk fine. Do over do it. Half the time thats the problem. Add way too much and loose the truditional Maine flavor. I couldn’t even take 2 bites before that salty overcooked pork taste showed up. Its called clam chowder not pork chowder.

  • Mary M

    I’ve eaten clam chowder everywhere from Canada to Texas and have loved almost every bowl. There was one in San Diego…well, never mind. One of the very few that were terrible. I grew up on Campbell’s, still love it, too. BUT – here in Dallas there is a restaurant called Yard House that makes the most delicious clam chowder I have ever encountered. Turns out their chef is from Maine! About your recipe: I’m sure it’s great, as are all your recipes, but I have to admit my stomach tightened up a bit as soon as you mentioned corn. I love good corn, but there are certain places it shouldn’t go, and this is definitely one of them! If I make this, I will not be adding corn. Everyone to his own taste!

  • Don Fitch

    I like to thicken it with a light white sauce — for my usual-size batch, two tablespoonsful of butter or other oils, heated long enough to evaporate any water, then an equal amount of flour stirred in and cooked until it barely begins to brown, then milk/cream plus other (clam-juice) liquids added, and cooked for a few minutes to overcome any raw-flour taste. (Actually, I’m too much of a Depression Era child to buy cream for any cooking, but I find that whole-milk works quite well, and my cardiologist doesn’t object if I don’t do it too often.)

    And yes, if it comes out a bit thin for my taste, instant mashed potato flakes work fine. (Note that, even though I’ve spent most of my life on the West Coast, I don’t think clam chowder should b thick enough to eat with a fork.)

  • I_Fortuna

    Great recipe. Usually when I cook up a creamy soup or stew, I add cream after I have served up the soup in a bowl. Even though, cream, not milk. does well even if the soup or chowder boils, I found adding cream to the bowl makes it even better. And, if someone does not like the cream, they can leave it out or add a few spoonfuls of stewed tomatoes, Rotel, or chopped tomatoes in juice or V8. Everyone’s taste is different, so offering options is important to me.
    I like making a roux and let mine cook 3 minutes to rid the raw flour taste.
    Thanks for the recipe. : )

  • Susanne

    I’m long overdue in giving you a compliment. When I want to make something, I look at other recipe sites, but then I come back to yours and always end up making your version. Always the best. Many thanks for this great chowder recipe which will be our Christmas Eve dinner!

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