Imagine yourself on a dock near the ocean, basking in the salt air to the tune of the seagulls’ cries. You’re hungry after a seaside hike. In front of you sits a bowl of steaming clam chowder. It’s creamy but thin and light, and it tastes of the sea. It’s simple—only clams, clam juice, onions, potatoes, and cream. This is New England in the summer!
The origins of the New England clam chowder go back to early settlers, who made it with salt pork, clams, and the broth they were cooked in, thickened with crushed ship biscuit. It hasn’t changed too much since then.
New England clam chowder is not just for summer. It’s for rainy days and cold winter nights, too. It’s easy enough to pull together on a weeknight, but it could be a preamble to a weekend supper.
How to Make New England Clam Chowder
Start with sautéed bacon. Add onions and celery and cook them until they are softened. Add clam broth, water, and the potatoes. Once the potatoes are tender, in go the clams and cream for a quick simmer. That’s all there is to it!
For this recipe, I use frozen chopped clam meat, since they are available in many markets across the country, while fresh clams are not. They have a fresh, briny taste and are easy to store in the freezer for an (almost) impromptu chowder.
Defrost them overnight in the refrigerator.
Clams can also be found in other forms:
- Canned clams: While canned clams are acceptable in a pinch, they do not have the same fresh taste that frozen clams do.
- Fresh clams: If you’d like to make this with fresh clams, check out this recipe. It shows you how to clean and steam the clams. The varieties most often used in chowder are quahogs, littlenecks, count-necks, cherrystones, and top-necks.
The clams don’t cook long in the broth and cream, so they stay relatively tender. Unless you are eating freshly steamed clams, they can be quite chewy if cooked too long.
The Vegetables in Clam Chowder
Potatoes and onions are the only vegetables that traditionally go into a New England clam chowder, though some cooks add celery, thyme, or bay leaves. Use russet potatoes because they release their starch into the chowder, which helps thicken it.
The Broth in Clam Chowder
Jarred clam juice and heavy cream form the base of the chowder. It is not thick or gloppy, but relatively thin. If you prefer a thicker chowder, you don’t need to add flour. Just mash some of the cooked potatoes with a fork to give the soup more body.
Variations of Chowder
Other than the Classic New England Clam Chowder, from Maine to Florida, each region has its variations. Here are some well-known ones:
- Manhattan clam chowder: Instead of milk or cream, the broth is made with tomatoes. Did you know that in 1939 the Maine Legislature passed a bill deeming tomatoes in New England Clam Chowder illegal?
- Rhode Island clam chowder: This is a clear chowder made with bacon, onions, potatoes, quahogs, and clam broth without cream or milk.
Storage and Reheating Instructions
Classic New England Clam Chowder
This recipe calls for frozen chopped clams, but you could use well-drained canned clams or fresh clams (here instructions on how to clean and prepare them).
If using frozen clam meat, you will have to thaw it overnight in the fridge.
4 ounces (3 to 4 slices) thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 (8-ounce) bottles clam juice
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
2 russet potatoes (about 1 pound) peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 pound (about 2 cups) frozen chopped clam meat, defrosted overnight in the refrigerator
1 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Oyster crackers, for serving
Cook the bacon:
In a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring often, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the bacon releases most of its fat.
Add the vegetables:
Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring often, for 5 to 6 minutes, until softened.
Add the liquids and potatoes:
Add the clam juice, water, salt, and potatoes. Place the lid on and simmer for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.
Add clams and cream:
Add the chopped clams and cream and bring it to a simmer for 2 to 3 minutes.
Taste and season with more salt if you’d like. Ladle the chowder into bowls, grind black pepper over each, and serve with oyster crackers.
Leftover chowder will last for three to 3-4 days in the refrigerator. It can be frozen for 4-6 months, but in terms of flavor, it is best if eaten before the 4 months. Heat the thawed chowder in a pot over low heat on top of the stove and stir well to keep it from curdling.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 6 to 8|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 17g||21%|
|Saturated Fat 8g||42%|
|Total Carbohydrate 21g||8%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||7%|
|Total Sugars 3g|
|Vitamin C 19mg||96%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|