Wonderfully creamy New England Clam Chowder is way easier than you think to make at home and about to become a new family favorite!
New England Clam Chowder is hearty, thick, creamy and loaded with tender clams, creamy potatoes and salty, smoky bacon in a rich flavor bursting broth! Homemade Clam Chowder might seem intimidating but you will be AMAZED at just how quick and easy it is to make at home in just one pot. I’ve detailed how to use fresh clams or canned clams to make a New England Clam Chowder to rival your favorite restaurant. If you’re not sure you love New England Clam Chowder, this recipe will convert you!
New England Clam Chowder Recipe Video
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New England Clam Chowder Recipe
I lived in Solana Beach for 5 years (by the Del Mar racetrack in San Diego) in my late teens/early twenties and down the street was the iconic Fish Market with the best New England Clam Chowder. My friends and I would buy a quart for $8 which came with oyster crackers and a huge slab of bread.
We would drive a few blocks west to the ocean and sit on the bluffs as we devoured our rich and satisfying chowder. It was then that I fell in love with New England Clam Chowder. And I fell hard.
I would crave the white creamy chowder bursting with delectable clams, tender potatoes, and salty bacon. Little did I know just how easy it is to make restaurant quality New England Clam Chowder at home or I would have been making it weekly!
So now that I know how easy it is, I want YOU to know how easy it is! You will never go back to any canned/carton variety again because this Clam Chowder is perfection.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF CLAM CHOWDER?
If you aren’t familiar with New England Clam Chowder, then you might wonder what the difference is between New England Clam Chowder and the other varieties.
- New England Clam Chowder or “Boston Clam Chowder” is by far the most common and most popular type of chowder. It boasts a rich creamy base and is commonly made with potatoes, onion, and clams; adding tomatoes to THIS chowder is frowned upon. In fact, in 1939, a bill was introduced in the Main legislature to make adding tomatoes to clam chowder illegal! It didn’t pass.
- Manhattan Clam Chowder, on the other hand, is where the tomatoes are at. It features a clear tomato broth and is essentially a vegetables soup with clams.
Of both varieties, I can’t pull my spoon away from lusciously creamy New England Clam Chowder and I think you’ll agree!
What Clams Should I use for New England Clam Chowder?
You can use either canned or fresh clams for New England Clam Chowder -whatever is most convenient or you and fits your budget. I’ve outlined how to use canned clams and how to use fresh clams below and in the actual recipe so there are no excuses not to make homemade clam chowder!
Can I Make New England Clam Chowder with Canned Clams?
Yes! Seeing as San Diego is on the opposite side of the Unites States from New England, fresh clams can be hard to come by or very expensive, so I’ve made this New England Clam chowder with minced canned clams and I couldn’t taste a difference!
In fact, many reputable restaurants use canned clams with the addition of clam juice. You will be shocked how restaurant-quality delicious this version tastes and canned clams make it that much easier!
What Canned Clams Should I use?
You will need three (6.5 oz) cans chopped/minced clams in clam juice. These clams are located near the canned tuna fish in your grocery story.
We drain the clams and reserve the clam juice and add bottled clam juice to equal 2 ½ cups total clam juice. The bottled clam juice can also be found near the clams in your grocery store.
What fresh clams should I use for New England Clam Chowder?
You can also make New England Clam Chowder with fresh clams. If you are going the fresh clam route then I recommend using fresh cherrystone clams. Cherrystone clams are more tender than quahogs (which is always a good thing). That being said, quahogs are commonly used because they are less expensive and will still work.
How to Steam Clams for New England Clam Chowder
Steaming fresh clams is actually quite simple and creates its own clam juice so you will use this clam stock instead of the bottled clam juice listed in the ingredients. Let’s get to it!
- SCRUB your shells very well.
- Add 3 cups water to a Dutch oven and bring to a boil.
- Add clams, cover, and cook on high heat for 5 minutes. Stir clams, cover and cook an additional 2 minutes. Uncover and remove any open clams. Continue to simmer and remove clams as they open up. Discard any unopened clams.
- Drain the clams and reserve stock, scoop out the meat, and coarsely chop.
- Set the clams aside to add to the chowder at the very end of cooking. Like the canned clams, we are just HEATING the clams and not cooking the clams. If you add them any sooner to the chowder then they will become rubbery.
- Strain the stock from the pot through a mesh strainer lined with a coffee filter and add to a measuring cup to equal 2 ½ cups. Add additional water to equal 2 ½ cups if needed.
What Kind of Bacon Should I Use?
You will want to use thick, center cut bacon opposed to traditional sliced bacon. Sliced bacon wilts as its simmered whereas thick bacon holds up to the heat so you are left with a wonderful meaty texture that compliments the clams.
The key to cooking thick bacon is low and slow so that the fat renders out completely without letting the bacon burn. This gives you a great base to sweat your vegetables.
What Kind of Potatoes Should I use?
The potatoes for New England Clam Chowder come down to personal preference.
Yukon Gold: This is my favorite potato for soups. It is a waxy potato so it retains its shape well and is hard to overcook. It tastes soft, buttery and melt-in-your-mouth tender without ever tasting mealy.
Russet Potatoes: They boast a soft, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture, taste the most “potato-y” and practically fall apart in your mouth. The tricky thing about Russet potatoes is you don’t want them to actually fall apart, so you have to take care not to overcook them.
What Seasonings for Clam Chowder?
Both bacon and clams are wonderfully salty so we don’t need to add a lot of seasonings. To this New England Clam Chowder, I’ve seasoned it with dried parsley, red pepper, oregano, dried thyme, pepper and aromatic onions an garlic.
I suggest adding 2 teaspoons chicken bouillon to your clam chowder if you are using canned clams. The salty bouillon enhances the natural flavors and mimics the saltiness of the fresh clams and juice. This extra touch elevates this New England Clam Chowder to a whole new level.
If using fresh clams, I would omit the chicken bouillon then add a little to taste if it still feels like is missing a little something-something.
How to Make New England Clam Chowder
Now that you have your clams all ready to go, it’s time to make New England Clam Chowder! You will LOVE how easy this clam chowder is to make with gourmet results.
Simply cook chopped bacon in a large Dutch oven then remove half to garnish the clam chowder with at the end of cooking.
Next, cook your onions and celery in the bacon drippings for dynamic flavor followed by potatoes, garlic and red pepper. Sprinkle in some flour and cook for one minute to get rid of the raw flour smell then stir in chicken broth, clam juice and all seasonings.
Simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are very tender then stir in heavy cream followed by clams. That’s it for decadently delicious New England Clam Chowder!
How to Keep Clams From Becoming Rubbery
They key to preventing rubbery clams is to not overcook them. After we’ve simmered the clam chowder and the potatoes are fork tender, then add the clams to the soup. You do not want to cook your clams, you just want to HEAT them so add them at the very end of cooking.
How do you thicken New England clam chowder?
Everyone has their own opinion as to how thick a chowder should be. For this New England Clam Chowder, we use a roux to thicken the chowder then stir in 1 cup heavy cream at the end of cooking. If you would like a thicker chowder, simmer the soup longer, for a thinner chowder, stir in additional chicken broth. You can also thicken the soup by:
- Cornstarch: Remove ¼ cup broth from the clam chowder and whisk in 1-2 tablespoons cornstarch with a fork (depending on how much thicker you want it) until smooth then whisk it back into the chowder. Simmer until thickened to desired consistency.
- Flour and butter: Mix equal parts flour and softened butter together with a fork so it becomes a thick paste and almost forms a ball. You will want 2-4 tablespoons each, depending on how thick you want the chowder. Add it to the chowder, and simmer until thickened, stirring occasionally.
- Puree soup: Remove 1-2 cups of the chowder and puree it in your blender or food processor. It will add body to the soup while preserving the flavor.
- Mash potatoes: Remove some of the potatoes, mash them and return them to the soup. Mashed potatoes are a natural thickener. Alternatively, you can microwave a few potatoes separately, mash them and add them to the soup if you don’t want to use any from the chowder.
What Should I serve with Clam Chowder?
To finish the New England Clam Chowder, pile it with some of the reserved crispy bacon and fresh parsley for an added explosion of YUM!
I love serving New England Clam Chowder with a big chunk of bread and oyster crackers. I love the salty crunch oyster crackers add to the chowder. If you can’t find oyster crackers than saltine crackers are also delicious.
How Long is Clam Chowder Good for?
New England Clam Chowder should be stored in an airtight container in your refrigerator. When properly stored, clam chowder is good for 3-5 days.
Can I make Clam Chowder Ahead of Time?
The flavors of this New England Clam Chowder only gets better the next day so this chowder makes fantastic leftovers. It will thicken as it stands overnight in the refrigerator so just whisk in a little milk before reheating.
Can I Freeze Clam Chowder?
I do NOT recommend freezing clam chowder. Cream based soups do not freeze well as the fat separates when frozen and defrosted. Potatoes also don’t freeze well as their texture becomes mealy and mushy.
Now dig into your better-than-any-restaurant New England Clam Chowder that’s wonderfully creamy, hearty, satisfying and seasoned to perfection and be prepared to blown away!
Looking for more Creamy Soup Recipes?
- White Chicken Lasagna Soup
- Loaded Zuppa Toscana
- Chicken Gnocchi Soup
- White Bean, Ham, Tortellini Soup
- Bacon Ranch Chicken Chowder
- White Chicken Chili
- Broccoli Cheese Soup
- Slow Potato Soup (Lightened Up)
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Tools Used in This Recipe
New England Clam Chowder
- 3 (6.5 oz.) cans chopped/minced clams in clam juice*
- 1 (8 oz.) bottle clam juice*
- 6 thick center-cut bacon strips, chopped
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 1/4 pounds (3 ½ cups) Yukon gold potatoes peeled and diced into 1/4-1/2” cubes
- 3-5 garlic cloves, minced
- pinch-1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes optional
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 2 teaspoons chicken bouillon (Hold if using fresh clams)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp EACH dried parsley, dried oregano, salt (salt to taste if using fresh clams)
- 1/4 tsp EACH dried thyme, pepper
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Oyster crackers
- fresh parsley
- Drain clam juice from cans into a liquid measuring cup. Add enough bottled clam juice to equal 2 ½ cups. Set aside. (See directions in Notes if using fresh clams.)
- In a Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat until fat is rendered and slightly brown. Remove half of the bacon with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons grease. To the remaining bacon and drippings, melt in 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat.
- Increase heat to medium high and add celery and onion. Sauté for 5-7 minutes or until onions are soft. Add potatoes, garlic, red pepper (if using) and sauté 30 seconds. Sprinkle in flour and cook an additional 1 minute. Stir in chicken broth, reserved 2 ½ cups clam juice, chicken bouillon, bay leaves and all seasonings. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are very tender.
- Stir in heavy cream and bring to a simmer to heat through. Discard bay leaves. Remove from heat and stir in clams. Taste and add salt/pepper to taste. (You may or may not need additional salt depending on how salty your clams and bacon are.) For a thinner or less chunky soup stir in additional heavy cream/milk or chicken broth.
- Top individual servings with reserved bacon and oyster crackers and fresh parsley if desired.
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