New England Clam Chowder – creamy white hearty soup made with fresh tender clams, potatoes and smokey bacon. Definitely a great comforting dish on a season like this!
I’m not a big fan of clams. I find them intimidating to cook and scoop. That’s just me! But when I first had this soup at a friend’s house, I know I have to introduce this to my family as they are very hearty, comforting and melts-in-your mouth kind of soup. Instead of cheating and going with canned clams (like most restaurants would) to make my life a little easier, I decided to try it first with fresh clams so I can appreciate more the flavor of this dish and it didn’t disappoint me.
What is a Clam Chowder?
Clam chowder has several variations across the country, but the basic definition of a clam chowder is it’s a creamy chowder soup that has clams and, of course, broth. It usually includes some diced potatoes, onions, and celery and garnished with either parsley or bay leaf.
This dish was said to have originated in the Eastern part of the United States, with New England Clam Chowder being the most popular and the earliest-established one. It was first introduced by the French, Nova Scotian or British settlers and has become common in the 18th century.
What is the Difference Between Boston and New England Clam Chowder?
The fundamental difference between all these chowders is the broth. Boston and New England Clam Chowder happens to be the same which are on the thick, creamy, dairy-based side. On the other hand, there is also another popular version of clam chowder which is known as the Manhattan Clam Chowder which is red and is tomato-based.
What Does New England Clam Chowder Taste Like?
It’s kind a hard to find the right words to describe how a dish taste like. But I’ll do my best! 😉 A New England Clam Chowder is creamy and thick like you’re sipping a gravy with tender chunks of potatoes that almost feel like it melts in your month. You’ll also love the contrasting flavor of the saltiness and smokiness of the bacon and the fading bitterness of fresh “oceany” clams. And I’ve also added a teaspoon of Creole seasoning for a little heat.
More Comforting Soups To Try
This is truly one comforting dish that needs to be served on cold or rainy days or even on a regular basis. It’s quite filling on its own or with some oyster crackers or warm crusty bread like this homemade garlic bread HERE. As always, adjust the thickness of the soup depending on your preferred consistency.
Tips and Notes:
- You can equally replace half and half with 1/2 cup cream and 1/2 cup whole milk
- If you prefer a thicker chowder, simmer the soup a little longer or blend some potatoes and add it to the mixture. For thinner chowder, add more clam juice or half and half.
- Littlenecks and cherrystone clams tend to be more fitting for a clam chowder recipe.
- Some restaurants use canned clams, it works okay. But if I can’t get fresh live clams, I would prefer some chopped frozen clam meat in the grocery’s frozen section.
- If available you may use vegetable or seafood stock to thin out chowder to desired consistency
New England Clam Chowder
- 3 cups water
- 5 pounds live clams in shells, shells scrubbed (see notes for canned substitute)
- 4 slices thick bacon, diced
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 1 large bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1½ cup clam juice, or more
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 4 cups potatoes, cubed
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Chives, for garnish (optional)
How to Boil Clams
- Add about 3 cups of water to a large pot, then add clams—cover and place over high heat. Cook clams for about 5 minutes. Uncover the pot, stir the clams, and continue cooking for another 3-4 minutes or until the clams open up.
- Turn off the heat and discard any clams that have not opened. Strain the liquid from the pot through a mesh strainer lined with a coffee filter and reserve juice to use later. Coarsely chop the clams and set them aside.
How to Make Clam Chowder
- In a large pot over medium heat, cook bacon until crispy. Drain bacon on paper towels while leaving the bacon fat in the pot - about 1-2 tablespoons.
- Next, add butter to melt, followed by onions and celery, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, thyme, bay leaf, Creole seasoning, and flour, and cook for about a minute or until the garlic is fragrant and the flour turns pale golden.
- Pour in reserved clam juice, cream, and half-and-half while whisking constantly until combined. Stir in the potatoes and bring mixture to a boil. Then reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.
- Add chopped clams meat and cook until heated through (about 2 minutes). Season chowder with salt and pepper to taste. If the chowder is too thick, gradually stir in more half-and-half or clam juice until you reach your preferred consistency. Adjust seasonings to taste.
- Garnish with chopped bacon and chives and serve immediately with crusty bread or cornbread.
Tips & Notes:
- You can substitute 12 ounces of canned clams. You can also use oysters or scallops if you can't get clams.
- Please keep in mind that nutritional information is a rough estimate and can vary greatly based on the products used.
How to Make New England Clam Chowder
In a large pot, add about 3 cups of water, then add clams. Cover and place over high heat; Cook clams for about 5 minutes. Uncover the pot and stir the clams and continue cooking for another 3-4 minutes or until the clams just open up. Turn off the heat and discard any clams that have not opened. Strain the liquid from the pot through a mesh strainer lined with a coffee filter and reserve juice to use later .
And coarsely chop the clams meat and set aside. In a large pot over medium heat, cook bacon until crispy. Drain bacon on paper towels while leaving the bacon fat in the pot – about 1-2 Tablespoons.
Next, add butter to melt, followed by onions , celery and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, thyme, bay leaf, creole seasoning and flour . Cook for about 1 minute or until the garlic is fragrant and the flour turns pale golden.
Add the reserved clam juice, half-and-half and cream while whisking constantly until combined. Stir in the potatoes and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.
Add chopped clams meat and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Season chowder with salt and pepper to taste.If the chowder is too thick, gradually stir in more half-and-half / or clam juice or until you reach your preferred consistency. Adjust seasonings to taste. Garnish with chopped bacon and chives and serve immediately with crusty bread or cornbread.