If you’re craving clam chowder, try this classic New England clam chowder. It’s creamy, but not heavy, with delicate potatoes and just the right amount of briny clam flavor. Don’t forget the oyster crackers!
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.