How To Make Easy New England Clam Chowder

updated Sep 30, 2020
How to Make Easy New England Clam Chowder

A weeknight-friendly New England clam chowder that relies on pantry staples.

Serves4 to 6

Makesabout 6 cups

Prep10 minutes

Cook40 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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Two bowls of New England clam chowder topped with oyster crackers; soup spoons and bread on the side.
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

The only clam chowder I had when I was growing up in California came out of a can, and our family considered it a treat. I loved the briny, creamy soup with the chunks of potatoes and chewy clams, and picked it over chicken noodle every single time. Then I had fresh clam chowder and my eyes were opened: One of my favorite soups was even better, especially when oyster crackers were scattered on top!

Since I can’t travel to New England right now or in the foreseeable future, I decided to come up with a pantry-friendly clam chowder to satisfy my craving for this classic American soup. It’s big on clam flavor, not too thick or rich, and it’s perfect as the fall weather sets in and days get shorter and colder.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

New England versus Manhattan Clam Chowder

Creamy clam chowder originates from New England, but its popularity stretches even to San Francisco, where seafood restaurants and streetside kiosks hawk creamy clam chowder in hollowed-out sourdough bread bowls by the bay. It’s very different from Manhattan clam chowder, which swaps out the cream or dairy for tomatoes instead. While New England clam chowder can range from a thinner broth to a thicker base, Manhattan skips any kind of additional thickener and has a base that is a thin broth.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

The Key Ingredients for New England Clam Chowder

While fresh clams certainly make the best-tasting clam chowder, it’s not the most weeknight-friendly — especially if you don’t have easy access to a fresh seafood counter or fishmonger. This recipe relies on easier-to-find pantry ingredients that you can find at most grocery stores instead. Here’s what to stock up on.

  1. Canned clams and bottled clam juice. Canned, chopped clams are a great shortcut for weeknight clam chowder. The whole can is used in this chowder, so nothing goes to waste. There isn’t enough clam juice in the cans though, so grab some bottled clam juice too. Since the clams are already cooked, you’ll add them in towards the end of the cooking process to avoid a chewy texture.
  2. Bacon. Just a few slices of bacon add a salty, smoky depth to clam chowder that pairs well with the briny clams. You’ll cook it first to render out its fat, then sauté the aromatics directly in the flavorful fat.
  3. Waxy potatoes. Waxy potatoes like Yukon Gold or red (which cook up especially pretty) cook up nice and tender but hold their shape well. They have less starch than floury potatoes like russets, which can fall apart and make the soup too thick.
  4. Cream. Instead of using a lot of milk and half-and-half for the base of the soup, the bottled clam juice makes up the majority of the liquid. That means there’s plenty of clam flavor, but just a 1/4 cup of heavy cream adds the signature richness and creaminess to the soup. Stirring it in right at the end means it won’t curdle.

How to Serve New England Clam Chowder

Because there isn’t a lot of dairy in this chowder, it won’t look as white in color as other versions that you might have seen, but I promise that the clam juice will deliver a delicious punch of flavor and also make the soup a tad lighter than creamier versions. Don’t forget to grab some oyster crackers to throw on top and sprinkle on some chopped parsley if you’d like. New England clam chowder is the perfect lunch or light dinner — especially when it’s cold outside and you want something steaming and hearty.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell
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Here's how to make easy New England clam chowder.

How to Make Easy New England Clam Chowder

A weeknight-friendly New England clam chowder that relies on pantry staples.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 40 minutes

Makes about 6 cups

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 3 slices

    bacon (about 3 ounces)

  • 1 clove

    garlic

  • 2

    small celery stalks

  • 1/2

    medium yellow onion

  • 12 ounces

    red or Yukon gold potatoes (about 2 medium)

  • 1

    bay leaf

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    dried thyme

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed

  • 2 (6-1/2-ounce) cans

    chopped clams

  • 1/4 cup

    all-purpose flour

  • 2 (8-ounce) bottles

    clam juice

  • 1/3 cup

    heavy cream

  • Oyster crackers and coarsely chopped fresh parsley leaves, for serving (optional)

Equipment

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Chef’s knife and cutting board

  • Large saucepan or small pot

  • Fine-mesh strainer

  • Medium bowl

  • Wooden spoon

Instructions

  1. Chop the bacon and vegetables. Finely chop 3 slices bacon and place in a large saucepan or small pot. Finely chop 1 garlic clove and place in a medium bowl. Dice 2 small celery stalks (about 2/3 cup), and 1/2 medium yellow onion (about 1 cup), and add to the bowl with the garlic. Dice 12 ounces red or Yukon Gold potatoes (no need to peel, about 1 1/2 cups).

  2. Cook the bacon and aromatics. Cook the bacon over medium heat until most of the fat is rendered out, about 5 minutes. Add the onion mixture (reserve the bowl), 1 bay leaf, 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Cook until the onion starts to soften, 5 to 6 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the clams.

  3. Drain the clams and reserve the clam juice. Strain 2 (6 1/2-ounce) cans chopped clams through a fine-mesh strainer into the reserved bowl.

  4. Add the flour. Sprinkle 1/4 cup all-purpose flour over the bacon mixture. Cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute.

  5. Add the clam juice and potatoes. While stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, pour in the strained clam juice and 2 bottles clam juice. Add the potatoes. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally and making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

  6. Add the clams and cream. Add the drained clams and 1/3 cup heavy cream. Stir to combine and bring back to a simmer. Taste and season with more salt and black pepper as needed. Discard the bay leaf and serve with oyster crackers and garnished with the parsley if desired.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 3 days.

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