Manhattan Clam Chowder

According to food historian and blogger Janet Clarkson, the very first printed recipe for chowder appeared in the Boston Evening Post in 1751. Written as a poem, it described a stew with onions, pork, fish, herbs, and biscuits (hard tack, I think). Over the years “chowdah” evolved into a dairy-based stew in New England, and during the late 1800s the first tomato-based chowders showed up on the menu at Delmonico’s in New York, perhaps influenced by Portuguese immigrants who often put clams together with pork and tomato sauce.

If you are used to thick (or thin) cream-based, cracker-riddled, white clam chowder, this Manhattan clam chowder is a completely different beast. Not even remotely like the New England favorite. But, it’s good in its own right, especially if you love tomatoes and clams. You can make it as brothy or thick as you like. In our case we’re taking a little shortcut with the recipe by using canned clams for much of the clam component of the soup. Living here in California we don’t have as easy (or cheap) access to quahogs or chowder clams as they do on the eastern shore.

I originally had this soup in mind for Lent, and then remembered that it starts with bacon. It would still make an excellent soup for a Lenten fast, just skip the bacon and add more olive oil to start.

Manhattan Clam Chowder Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6-8.

If you have an ample supply of quahog chowder clams, feel free to use them in addition to the smaller clams, use them in place of the canned clams called for in this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 2 slices bacon (can sub with 2 more Tbsp olive oil)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 12 ounces of tomato juice, strained tomatoes or crushed tomatoes
  • 1 14-ounce can of clam broth or juice*
  • 2 10-ounce cans of baby clams, juice reserved*
  • 1 pound waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • A dozen or so live small clams, such as littlenecks or Manila clams
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Tabasco or other hot sauce

*If using fresh quahogs, scrub clean a dozen or more quahogs. Place clams in a small pot and add two cups of water. Bring water to a boil. Cover the pot and steam the clams until they completely open, about 10 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove clams from pot and set aside. Strain the clam steaming liquid through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth to catch any grit, reserving the liquid. Remove the clams from the shells, chop. Use chopped clams in place of canned. Use steaming liquid in place of clam broth.

Method

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1 Render the bacon fat. Slowly cook the bacon with the olive oil until the bacon is crispy. Remove, chop and set aside. Turn the heat to medium-high and sauté the carrots, celery and onion until soft and translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Do not brown the vegetables. Return chopped bacon to the pot.

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2 Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the herbs, tomato juice, clam broth and the juice from the canned clams, mix well, then add the potatoes. Bring to a simmer, cover and simmer gently until the potatoes are done, about 30-40 minutes.

3 When the potatoes are tender, add the canned clams and the live clams, cover the pot and simmer until the live clams open up, about 5-10 minutes. Add Tabasco, salt and black pepper to taste.

Place a clam in shell or two in each bowl for serving.

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Links:

The New England Chowder Compendium - Snippets of original sources of recipes dating back to the 1700s from the archives of the University of Massachusetts.
Rhode Island Clear Clam Chowder - from The Perfect Pantry
Clam Chowder with Bacon and Green Chile - from Food Renegade
Steamer Clam Chowder - from Leite's Culinaria


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22 Comments

  1. Genêt

    I’ve never had a tomato-based clam chowder before but am anxious to try this one considering how delicious it looks. I think I’m going to whip up Lenten and non-Lenten versions!

  2. Gary In Massena

    To really make this recipe pop try adding a little dill! Just like Momma used to make.

  3. elston

    I just bought some frozen quohog chopped for chowdah! I sometimes make the creamy NE style but more frequently a Rhode Island style chowdah with tomato and chorico sausage and garden herbs (rosemay and thyme primarily)and lots of black pepper. The RI style seems to have more clam broth and less tomato than the Manhattan you are offering this morning.

    You start by trying-out salt pork fat and saute the onion and then add the potato (maybe a little celery)…add the chopped clams….no carrots or other vegetables. Cook it in clam broth

    It is definately influenced by the Portuguese immigrants who settled in the coastal area around Providence.

    In RI chowdah is often accompanied by “clam cakes” which in RI…..are deep fat fried clam fritters (not the flat pan fried cakes served in Mass and Maine). They are such a local fav that Mc Donalds had them on their menu for awhile! Eat with lots of ketchup.

    Wow, those deep fried clam cakes sound dangerously good. Love the idea of including chorico with the soup! ~Elise

  4. Shawna @ CheekyChicFamily

    I love your food-history lessons. Keep them coming. When I make an old recipe, such as this one, I like to think about what it was like when people were making a recipe long long ago. What kid of equipment they used…did they eat over candle light….can you tell, I’m a nostalgic type of person?

    I’m guessing whale oil lamps. I’m also guessing that they got up before dawn and got to bed pretty early, so that meals would be cooked and eaten when there was sufficient daylight. Great questions though, eh? ~Elise

  5. Tina

    When I make my chowder, I like to include some chopped bell pepper (about 1/2 of a medium sized pepper, green or red) and a little dried oregano. The two really create a great depth of flavor.

  6. Kathy

    Grew up eating vats of this stuff, made by my Nana. Love it but have never made it myself. I may just have to start!

  7. Di

    Great timing: I arrived in Manhattan this morning! I’ll be sure to give this a try when I get home.

  8. Cary

    “Living here in California we don’t have as easy (or cheap) access to quahogs or chowder clams”. Not true. Up here in Northern California there are an abundance of tasty razor clams ripe for the digging. Can’t get any cheaper than that.

    Well, unless you live along the Mendocino coast, you’re going to have to drive quite a ways to get to those clams. Also you need special equipment to dig for those clams. And as long as I’ve lived here, I’ve only seen razor clams for sale in the local market (Whole Foods) maybe a couple of times. Compared to the east coast, no, clams are not plentiful here. ~Elise

  9. Mike

    Groan–terrible timing! Spent a lot of yesterday afternoon making clam sauce for linguine, when what I REALLY wanted was Manhattan Chowdah. Got it in buckets from the _______Market on El Camino in Palo Alto. Definitely want a LOT more of that!

  10. Kathleen

    I lurk on your site but I’ve never commented before. Love all your recipes! I’ve been eating a lot of clams recently but I’ve never personally cooked them; I’m going shopping to make this tomorrow. It looks incredible.

    Thank you for all your hard work!

  11. Jim

    Thanks for nice Lenten recipe! I will make it this week.

    Any good ways to use sardines? I need the nutrients. No red meat for me this Lent.

    Try Dorie’s sardine rillettes. So good! I have some other sardine ideas that I may explore too. My favorite way to eat sardines is just lay a couple over a half cup or so of cottage cheese. Pour a little of the sardine oil over it too. ~Elise

  12. PortiaB

    I made this chowder with fresh cherrystone clams minus the bacon yesterday for a lenten potluck. It was a huge hit. It went so fast some people who wanted to try it never got the chance. Our priest took a large helping and liked it so much he quickly came back for another equally large helping. It was the only thing he ate besides bread. It’s definitely going into my collection of fasting recipes.

  13. JT

    This recipe was easy and great. Added chopped parsley at the end too.

  14. Richard Blaine

    Hi Elise,

    I found your blog from Nicole’s over at Pinchmysalt.com and one of the first things I saw was your Manhattan Clam Chowder. I gotta tell you I am from New York City and I have had Manhattan Clam Chowder in some really great restaurants and yours looks delicious! I have been making the dish for years myself and I could not do any better than you have done here! Bravo!

  15. chrissy

    Made this soup today…..ready to start my own soup business. It was Awesome! Thanks for the recipe. My grandmother would be proud.

  16. Linda

    I had a craving for Manhattan Clam Chowdah and your recipe came up in the search results. I made it today for dinner and it was a huge hit with both me and the guy. I’ve been asked to keep this one in rotation (which I most definitely intend to do). Thank you, Elise, for a great recipe and a wonderful site!

  17. Diane

    This looks marvelous. I love manhattan clam chowder. Thanks for the recipe.

  18. Sleeping Mom

    We just made this today and everyone loved it! Sadly I couldn’t find any clams in the shell, so we just stuck to clams already out of the shell. Still delicious though; thank you for sharing!

  19. JJ

    I’m a fan of ciopino, but grew up on the light recipe. I think it’s time to give this one a try.

  20. G Bowman

    I’ve never had Manhatten clam chowder in my live I am 57yrs old we had these clams and I wanted to make clam chowder. Due to Dr. orders I could have cream or milk so my husband told me to make manhatten clam chowder I found this recipe was is wonderful. Except I did add I added 3 cloves of garlic 1 green pepper and dill weed.

  21. Nora

    Thank you so much for such great and easy recipe. I followed your recipe exactly just added two ears of corn because I had too many in my fridge. I had a little bit left over so I turned it into a sauce to go over linguine. For the sauce I just sauteed garlic in olive oil and butter, a dash of red pepper flakes, added wine and the leftover clam chowder. Finished it with basil. It was delicious!! Thanks again.

  22. Royal

    I died and went to heaven. If I had a bigger stomach, the pot of clam chowder would be empty. Just put a bit of pepper on top of your soup, and it’s delicious. Thank you for making this awesome recipe.

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