Indulge in the exquisite flavors of New England Clam Chowder, a dish that embodies perfection. This authentic recipe combines fresh clams, creamy potatoes, luscious cream, milk, and tantalizing bacon. It is the epitome of a soul-warming soup, perfect for frosty winter nights, idyllic summer evenings by the beach, and every moment in between.
New England clam chowder, fondly pronounced “chowdah,” is a ubiquitous presence in Boston’s restaurants, pubs, and seafood markets. A cup of this delightful chowder offers an authentic taste of Boston, while a hearty bowlful can stand as a satisfying meal in itself. Whether you’ve pondered the art of crafting clam chowder or not, you’ll be delighted to know that this beloved New England delicacy is remarkably simple to prepare. It ranks among the easiest and fastest recipes originating from Boston and the surrounding New England region. With this recipe in hand, you can relish the pleasure of New England clam chowder whenever the craving strikes, regardless of your location.
Recipe for New England Clam Chowder
Preparation and Cooking Time for Clams: 1 1/2 hours
Cooking Time for Chowder: Approximately 15 minutes
Yields: About 4 cups
In Boston and other parts of New England, many individuals possess their own treasured “secret” clam chowder recipe. Likewise, we have our own distinctive variation to share with you. Though not genuinely a secret, our recipe utilizes fresh clams and achieves its desired thickness through a subtle combination of flour and potato starch.
Once you’ve diligently cleaned and steamed the clams (a process requiring merely 5 minutes of active effort), the preparation and cooking time for the chowder itself amounts to approximately 15 minutes. By multitasking certain steps, you can expedite the process even further. With a bit of practice, this recipe becomes effortlessly manageable.
If your local fish market offers shucked clams (clams already extracted from their shells), you may opt for that convenience as well.
However, if steaming and chopping fresh clams seems excessively time-consuming, if shucked clams are unavailable at your fish market, or if a visit to the market proves impractical, don’t fret! I will also share a shortcut using canned minced clams.
You Will Need:
- 5 pounds of quahogs, steamers, or other hard-shelled clams measuring 2″-3″ across (or 1 pint of shucked clams plus 1 bottle of clam juice)
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt
- 1 tablespoon of corn starch
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/8 pound of salt pork (traditional) or 2 slices of smoked bacon (modern and our preferred choice), diced
- 1 medium-sized onion, diced
- 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 1/4 teaspoon of white pepper
- 2 cups of peeled and diced potatoes (any variety works well; I recommend russet potatoes from nearby Rhode Island if available at local markets)
- 3 tablespoons of flour
- 1 cup of milk (2% works fine)
- Reserved liquid from cooking the clams
- 1 cup of heavy cream
- Salt to taste
- Optional dash of cayenne
- Optional 4 teaspoons of chopped parsley
- Large bowl
- Large colander
- Large soup pot
- Fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth
- Smaller bowl
- Large knife or cleaver for clam chopping (a small knife works too, albeit more slowly)
Steps to Prepare New England Clam Chowder:
1. Steaming the Clams (Skip this step if using shucked clams):
Begin by thoroughly scrubbing each clam with a stiff vegetable brush. This step, while requiring some effort, can be made enjoyable with the assistance of a friend or family member. Frame it as a fun task! Be prepared for some sand in your sink and a few specks on the wall, as depicted in the accompanying photo.
Once the clams are clean, place them in a large soup pot filled with cold water. Add 1/4 cup of salt and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to the pot. Allow the clams to soak in this solution for 1 hour, effectively removing any residual sand. The salt and cornstarch irritate the clams, prompting them to contract and expel the sand.
Rinse the clams under running water and transfer them to a large colander for draining. Thoroughly rinse out the soup pot, return the clams to the pot, and add 1 cup of water and 2 bay leaves. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and steam the clams over medium-high heat for approximately 15 minutes. Most of the clams should open fully; discard any that remain closed. Use tongs to transfer the remaining clams to a bowl.
Strain the liquid left in the bowl through cheesecloth or a fine-mesh strainer into a smaller bowl. This will yield around 3 cups of “clam liquor”—the precious liquid derived from cooking the clams. Set it aside, utilizing a portion in this New England clam chowder recipe, and freezing the remainder for future use in seafood bisques or chowders.
2. Chopping the Clams
Once the clams have cooled enough to handle, remove them from their shells and chop them into small pieces, approximately 1/4″ dice.
Note: If utilizing shucked clams, simply proceed to chopping them into 1/4″ dice without steaming.
3. Preparing the Chowder Base
While the clams are cooling, give the large soup pot one final rinse, and place it back on the stove over medium heat. If using salt pork, render the fat until it melts. For bacon, cook until it reaches an almost crisp consistency.
Add the diced onion, the remaining bay leaf, thyme, pepper, and butter to the pot. Once the butter has melted, sprinkle the flour over the other ingredients and stir until well incorporated. Continue stirring until the onions become translucent.
Introduce the reserved clam cooking liquid, diced potatoes, and milk to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, before reducing the heat. Simmer for 8-10 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Stir the mixture occasionally while the potatoes cook. This is an opportune time to chop the clams (Step 2).
4. Incorporating Clams, Cream, and Seasonings
Add the chopped clams and heavy cream to the pot. Gently bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Avoid overcooking, as clams may become tough and rubbery. If using shucked raw clams, this cooking time applies as well, thanks to their smaller, quick-cooking pieces.
Taste the chowder and season it with salt, white pepper, and a dash of cayenne, if desired, to achieve the perfect balance of flavors.
5. Serving the Clam Chowder
Ladle the chowder into cups or bowls, and for an added touch, sprinkle approximately a teaspoonful of parsley over each serving.
Traditionally, NewThe Pleasure of Canned Clams
Admittedly, using canned clams may not yield the exact same results as fresh clams, but the resulting chowder is still delightful—especially when the alternative is no chowder at all. In fact, many restaurants incorporate canned clams into their chowder, often without anyone noticing the difference.
If you opt for this time-saving approach, skip Steps 1 and 2 of the New England clam chowder recipe. Instead, begin with Step 3. Simply substitute 2 cans of minced clams and one bottle of clam juice for the fresh clams and reserved cooking liquid. Alternatively, you can use cans of chopped clams, although they might be slightly chewier in texture.
While I personally prefer chowder made with fresh clams, I find the canned minced clams and bottles of clam juice to be reliable pantry staples that consistently produce excellent results.
Two Delectable Variations of Clam Chowder
I adore recipes that offer versatility, and this New England clam chowder recipe surpasses expectations in that regard. Here are two variations you can experiment with:
“Spirited” Chowder: For an extra kick, add a teaspoon of sherry to each bowl of chowder just before serving. Stir it in to achieve a harmonious blend. Increase the amount of sherry, and even the chilliest winter night will start to feel warm and cheerful. It’s bound to make you fall in love with winter.
Vegetable Chowder: No clams on hand? No problem. Skip Steps 1 and 2, and begin with Step 3. Instead of clams, use 2 cups of diced veggies—carrots, corn, sweet red peppers, and/or green peas work splendidly. Substitute chicken broth or milk for the clam cooking liquid.
Discover Boston’s Finest: Chowderfest!
The quest for the best clam chowder in Boston remains a burning question, and each year, top chefs in the city compete for the prestigious title at our local “Clam Bowl” event—Chowderfest.
Chowderfest provides an opportunity to sample delectable chowders from Boston’s finest restaurants and pubs, allowing attendees to vote for their favorite. Throughout the year, Boston’s chefs tirelessly strive to perfect their chowder recipes. Trust me when I say that everyone emerges a winner because Boston undeniably serves the finest chowder in the entire nation.
Chowderfest is a highlight of Harborfest, Boston’s grand celebration of Independence Day.