Clam chowder is one of my favorite soups (second only to lobster bisque). I love the rich, creamy broth filled with clams so I’m sharing the best clam chowder recipe I’ve developed over the years. Even on the hottest summer it hits the spot! My true appreciation for New England clam chowder came from going to Martha’s Vineyard during the summer when I was younger. My brother and I would take our kayaks out in the water with our Dad and our family friend, Sam, to go clamming. You use a large rake to dig through and find the clams under the sand. When we got back to the beach house, Sam would make us clam chowder with the clams that we brought in.
In my opinion Manhattan clam chowder has nothing on New England clam “chowda.” A proper New England clam chowder recipe should consist of a delicate and creamy, slightly thickened broth (but not sludgy) that contains a hint of smokiness from bacon and an abundance of clams.
Manhattan clam chowder on the other hand is made with a red, tomato base and does not include dairy like milk or cream making it a much thinner broth.
I always use littleneck clams for New England clam chowder. I find them to be much more tender and easier to serve whole than larger clams. If you have larger clams like quahog, give them a rough chop before they’re added to the soup. The clams can be steamed ahead of time just be sure to reserve the cooking liquid as well. When using fresh clams, discard any clams that are already partly opened before steaming or ones that do not open after steaming as they are already dead and likely have gone bad.
Chopped bacon adds a smokey touch to the soup while cooking in the vegetables in the bacon fat adds much more flavor to the base of the soup. If you choose to omit the bacon, use butter to cook the vegetables. (Some people prefer their clam chowder without it, I am not one of those people. I love the depth of flavor it adds to the broth).
Yellow onions are my go-to all purpose onion. While they have a strong flavor when they are raw, the flavor mellows when they’re cooked.
When paired with onion celery adds depth of flavor to the soup. Sautéed onions turn slightly sweet.
The leftover bacon fat is used as the base of the roux which will thicken the soup. Flour is cooked in the bacon fat until golden to keep the soup from getting grainy with any lingering taste of flour.
Chicken stock adds flavor to the broth. I use half chicken stock and half of the clam liquid so that the broth doesn’t have too much of an overpowering seafood flavor.
The potatoes are simmered in the broth until fork-tender. I use classic Russet potatoes in this soup though waxy potatoes like Yukon gold potatoes work very well because they hold their shape more.
The cream is used to create a rich, velvety soup. Rather than create a milk base I use a chicken stock and clam base finished with heavy cream.
Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Bring 3 cups of water to the boil, then add the clams and cover the pot. Cook until the clams have all opened, about 8 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat and set a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Pour the clams through the strainer and reserve the cooking liquid. Once the clams have cooled, remove the meat from the shells, and discard the shells. Chop the clams and set aside.
Return the pot to medium heat and add the bacon. Cook the bacon until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crispy, about 5 minutes.
Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon, reserving as much fat in the pan as possible.
Return the pan to medium heat then add the butter and allow to melt then add the onion and celery. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and opaque, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes, until the flour is pale brown.
Add the chicken stock, 2½ cups of the reserved cooking liquid, bay leaves, potatoes, and thyme. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer for about 30 minutes, continuing to stir occasionally, until the potatoes are tender.
Stir in the cream and continue to simmer for an additional 10 minutes.
Discard the bay leaves and sprig of thyme. Add the bacon and chopped clams to the broth, then stir in the Worcestershire and season to taste with salt and black pepper.
To serve, ladle the clam chowder into bowls, garnish with chives. Serve hot with oyster crackers on the side.
If clams are out of season of if you can’t find fresh ones, you can substitute with one pound of chopped canned clams and 2½ cups of clam juice (in place of the steamed clams and water). Since they are pre-cooked, wait to add them until just before serving to prevent overcooking.
Add any leftovers to a resealable container and refrigerate for up to 4 days. To reheat either return to the pot and heat over medium low heat or microwave in batches.
If you enjoy this creamy New England clam chowder recipe, check out these others:
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My family and I have made clam chowder for over 50 years and never heard of putting bacon in a clam chowder. That would definitely ruin the taste. I use minced quahogs, onion,butter,lobster bisque, and half&half.
Yum! Looking forward to trying this out.
Quick note: Another option to make a soup gluten free is to omit the flour and sub in a corn starch slurry at the end of cooking to thicken the soup. A good rule of thumb is to use half the amount of corn starch to flour that a recipe calls for, and mix with just enough cold water to fully dissolve all the starch before adding to your broth. I always shake mine up in a jar for both convenience and to avoid any clumps.
Thank you for the slurry option! That would absolutely work too!!