New England Clam Chowder

Joseph Lincoln, author and native of Cape Cod wrote, “A New England clam chowder, made as it should be, is a dish to preach about, to chant praises and sing hymns and burn incense before. To fight for. The Battle of Bunker Hill was fought for — or on — clam chowder; part of it at least, I am sure it was. It is as American as the Stars and Stripes, as patriotic as the national Anthem. It is ‘Yankee Doodle in a kettle.’”

New England Clam Chowder

In his epic novel, Moby Dick, Herman Melville wrote, “However, a warm savory steam from the kitchen served to belie the apparently cheerless prospect before us. But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh, sweet friends! hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt.”

New England Clam Chowder

There is nothing more satisfying on a cold wet night than a steaming bowl of clam chowder, specifically New England Clam Chowder (not the tomato based Manhattan Clam Chowder!). We had just such night last week and this is exactly what I made…

Cook’s Notes:
*The starch released from the potatoes naturally thickens this clam chowder. Some recipes call for a flour and butter roux to thicken the soup, but I find the resulting chowder far too thick and pasty.

*Buy the smallest clams you can find, as they are the sweetest. Traditionally, quahog or large chowder clams are used, but littlenecks are more tender and sweet. Because of their small size, I like to leave the clams whole, but if you end up with larger clams, by all means chop them up.

*Soak those clams in water before steaming! There is nothing worse than biting into a clam and getting a mouthful of grit. Pick over the clams; throwing away any with broken shells or that aren’t tightly shut. Place them in a bowl of cold water and let them soak for 15-30 minutes (prep the veggies while your waiting), changing the water every so often. When the water stays clean, scrub and rinse one more time for good measure and you’re ready to go.

New England Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder

  • Servings: 8
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*adapted from Jasper White, chef and owner of the Summer Shack

4 oz salt pork, rind removed and cut into 1/3-inch pieces
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, cut into 1/3-inch pieces
5-6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
2 dried bay leaves
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into ½- inch dice
3 cups reserved clam broth (from steaming clams)
8 pounds live clams (about 5-6 dozen littlenecks)
1 ½ cups heavy cream
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 Tablespoons minced fresh chives
salt and pepper to taste

Prepare clams:
Place clams (in their shells) in a large bowl filled with cold water. Allow to sit for 15-30 minutes, changing the water every so often. This will help release any grit. Give clams a final scrub and rinse to remove any remaining grit.

In a large stock pot or dutch oven, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Gently place clams in boiling water, distributing evenly. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Carefully remove lid and check on the clams. The clams are done when they have opened. Using tongs, remove any opened clams. Replace lid and continue to steam any clams that are still closed. After 3 minutes or so, carefully remove lid again… remove any clams that have opened and discard those that are still closed.

Pour clam broth into a large measuring cup, if you see any grit, pour it through a fine mesh sieve. You should have about 3 cups.

Remove clams from the shells and set aside. If you used large clams, roughly chop them. If they are small, you may leave them whole.

Prepare chowder:
Heat a large dutch oven over low heat, and add salt pork. Once it has rendered a few tablespoons of fat, increase heat to medium and cook until salt pork is a crisp golden brown. Remove the salt pork and set aside for another use.

Increase the heat to medium high and add butter, onions, garlic, celery, thyme, and bay leaves to the pot. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and turning golden, about 5-10 minutes.

Add potatoes and reserved clam broth. The broth should barely cover the potatoes; if it doesn’t, add enough water to just cover them. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Cover, and cook potatoes vigorously until they are soft on the outside but still firm in the center, about 10 minutes. If the broth hasn’t thickened lightly, smash a few potatoes against the side of the pot, and cook 1-2 minutes more to release the starch.

Remove pot from the heat, and stir in clams and cream. Add parsley and chives. Season to taste.

Serve with Tabasco, or your favorite hot sauce.

Steamed ClamsOnion, garlic, celery, salt pork, yellow potatoes, thyme, parsley, and chives

Sautéing onion, celery, garlic, and herbs in dutch oven
Add celery, onions, garlic, and herbs to dutch oven. Sauté over medium heat until onion softens, about 5 minutes.


Adding cubed potatoes to onion, celery, garlic and herbs
When onions are just turning golden, add cubed potatoes.
Adding clam stock to barely cover potatoes
Add enough clam stock to barely cover potatoes. If you don’t have enough clam stock, add water as needed.
Boiling potatoes in dutch oven
Over medium high heat, bring vegetables to a boil. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender on the outside, but are still firm inside.
Pressing potatoes against side of dutch oven to release starch
Carefully remove the lid and check the soup. It should have thickened slightly. If not, take a few potatoes and press them against the side of the pot to release their starch. Recover and simmer for a few more minutes.
Adding clams and any juices that accumulated to dutch oven
Add reserved clams and any juices that accumulated.
Adding cream to soup
Add cream…
Stirring in parsley and chives
Add chopped parsley and chives. Check for seasonings… because of the natural saltiness of the clams and their broth, you probably won’t need any additional salt, but I love adding lots of freshly ground black pepper.
Ladle full of New England Clam Chowder
Be sure each serving gets a good amount of clams, celery, and potato!

New England Clam Chowder


63 thoughts on “New England Clam Chowder

  1. Now THIS is what I imagined I would eat here. And I will follow your instructions to the letter so that I can …. including the type of clam to use. You have no idea how exciting the prospect is to me, the uninitiated girl who wants to taste New England as it should be 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

      1. The truth is that I’ve hardly been anywhere but this will change in the coming months. I am getting a car so The Bean and I will not be entirely stuck when Two Brains is at work. Woodmans in Essex is now on the list!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is also what I imagined to quote Osyth – I was in New England last year and ate about 4 bowls of clam chowder in various restaurants – every time I ordered a bowl I received a thin watery soup with small diced bits of potato in it, clams – not many and saltine crackers on top, frankly, after the fourth bowl I gave up. When I was in DC (I know it’s not new England) the canteen at the place I worked made a very thick and satisfying clam chowder, which I loved, and I looked for that in New England. Now I realise I just should have tracked you down and begged you to make me one .) failing that I can now follow your recipe :)!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Polianthus! Even though the basic elements are the same, the variations of clam chowders seems endless. Thin and watery with a few token diced clams to thick and gluey. It sounds like you found a keeper in DC with just the right balance! I like this one because the clams are small, but whole, and the broth creamy, but not too heavy.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This looks delicious! I love clam chowder (both kinds, don’t hate me) but I never really had the confidence to cook with clams. As you say, there’s nothing worse than a bite full of sand! Your directions and photos give me hope though. Maybe I’ll give it a try sometime!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I admire the passion of the person who introduced that bill, because I think NE clam chowder is delicious, but come on, is Manhattan style really so bad? 😉 I’ll be sure to report back when I try this recipe and get over my fear of sandy clams!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Lovely notes and tips on a great clam chowder. To be honest, I am really intimidated by making one! But can I just say that I loved your quotes, it has romanticized this dish for me. (I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Sadie! I’m so glad you liked the quotes! I romanticize food in literature too… I remember reading Heidi as a little girl and being completely engrossed by the scene where grandfather is toasting a chunk of cheese over the fire until it was as soft as butter, then spread on thick pieces of bread. I so wanted to do the same in my house!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Cameron! I did a little research and found that if you’d rather not use cream, regular whole milk will work. If you use milk, be sure to smash some potatoes on side of the pot as that will help thicken the soup. Another substitute that was mentioned was evaporated milk. Good luck! I’d love to hear how it turns out using any alternatives.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Delicious!! two years ago I flight to New England & NYC to celebrate my 50th birthday & I tried it in a lovely harbour restaurant & in Boston too!great memories😋😋😋


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