New England Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder

Clam chowder is one of the world's best comfort foods, especially for anyone who grew up in New England. But subpar clam chowder runs rampant throughout home kitchens and restaurants.

Some are too thick, others too thin. Some bowls are filled with rubbery clams, others are overpowered by bacon. That's why it's so important to have a good recipe on hand to satisfy those chowder cravings whenever they pop up.

The Very Best Bowl of Clam Chowder

The first published recipe for chowder (clam or otherwise) comes from a 1751 printing of the Boston Evening Post. That chowder bore little resemblance to the thick, creamy stew we love today, and while clams weren’t originally the starring ingredient, they certainly are now!

Today, the ideal bowl of chowder is full of briny clams, smoky notes from bacon, and a rich, sumptuous broth that screams to be sipped directly form the bowl.

Some recipes call for fresh clams, but canned work just as well for both convenience and flavor.

Dairy is a relatively modern addition—while a creamy consistency is the trademark appearance of a classic clam chowder, it wasn't always like that. Potatoes are a wonderful accompaniment that help to further thicken and flavor the soup, as well as provide some chew and texture.

What’s the Difference Between New England Clam Chowder and Manhattan Clam Chowder?

Despite their shared main ingredient, New England clam chowder and Manhattan clam chowders are very different dishes. New England clam chowder has a creamy, dairy base that's typically thickened with flour. Manhattan clam chowder, on the other hand, is thinner and a vibrant red thanks to the addition of tomatoes.

Clam Chowder Tips

  • Remember to save the clam juice! This adds a nice briny flavor to the chowder without the need to buy an additional bottle.
  • Watch your salt! The bacon and canned clams are both already salty, so you may not need to add as much when you're seasoning.

What to Serve With Clam Chowder

As far as garnish, you can't go wrong with oyster crackers, but some freshly chopped herbs (like chives) would work beautifully, as well as perhaps some additional crispy bacon. Slices of a nice crusty bread would also be great for sopping up the soup.

“This clam chowder is bowl of pure comfort. It comes together quite easily since canned clams are used. Saving the juices to use in the chowder adds great clam flavor. It’s creamy, yet doesn’t feel too heavy or rich. Definitely enjoy with a healthy heaping of oyster crackers!” —Patty Lee

New England Clam Chowder tester photo A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

  • 2 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided

  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced

  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

  • 2 cups water

  • 4 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

  • 3/4 teaspoon fine salt

  • Dash freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

  • 2 cups half-and-half

  • 3 (6.5-ounce) cans chopped clams, drained with juice reserved

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients to make New England clam chowder

    The Spruce Eats / Photographer: Fred Hardy, Food Stylist: Ana Kelly, Prop Stylist: Claire Spollen

  2. In​ a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat, cook bacon until almost crisp.

    A large dutch oven with chopped bacon cooking

    The Spruce Eats / Photographer: Fred Hardy, Food Stylist: Ana Kelly, Prop Stylist: Claire Spollen

  3. Reduce heat to low, add 1 tablespoon of the butter and the onions, and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Be careful not to brown the onions.

    A dutch oven with cooked chopped bacon and diced onion, cooking down in butter and bacon fat

    The Spruce Eats / Photographer: Fred Hardy, Food Stylist: Ana Kelly, Prop Stylist: Claire Spollen

  4. Add the flour and cook for 2 more minutes.

    A dutch oven with chopped bacon, diced onions, butter, and flour

    The Spruce Eats / Photographer: Fred Hardy, Food Stylist: Ana Kelly, Prop Stylist: Claire Spollen

  5. Whisk in the water and reserved clam juice and once combined, add the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper, increase heat to medium, bring to a simmer, and cook uncovered until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

    A dutch oven with water, clam juice, and chopped potatoes added to the onion-bacon mixture

    The Spruce Eats / Photographer: Fred Hardy, Food Stylist: Ana Kelly, Prop Stylist: Claire Spollen

  6. Reduce the heat to very low, add the half-and-half, the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, and the clams, and cook until heated through. Do not boil! Turn off heat, adjust seasoning, and serve hot.

    A dutch oven of New England clam chowder being stirred with a wooden spoon

    The Spruce Eats / Photographer: Fred Hardy, Food Stylist: Ana Kelly, Prop Stylist: Claire Spollen

Recipe Variation

  • In the summer months, fresh corn kernels would add a nice burst of sweetness and texture to this clam chowder.
  • Instead of clams, try this recipe with white fish, mussels, or other seafood.

How to Store

  • Store leftover clam chowder in an airtight container for up to 3 days. To reheat, simmer on the stovetop, making sure not to let it boil.

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