New England Clam Chowder

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Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder

Prep 5 mins   Cook 25 mins   Eat 30 mins

Who doesn’t love a good New England Clam Chowder. Creamy.  Salty, from the sea. Smooth, with chunks of meaty clams and the surprise as you bite into America’s favorite vegetable, the lowly potato.

Well, if you have a shellfish allergy, it wouldn’t be good.  But for the rest of us, clam chowder is a great use of clams, those funny looking mollusks from the sea.   According to Jasper White, author of “50 Chowders”, chowders came into existence sometime between 1700 and 1750.  Chowders were first made by fishermen, who undoubtedly had a lot of fish and and salt pork (from the pork belly, but like the fatty rind we’re familiar with on a ham, but unsmoked) on their boats and I presume, needed to eat and keep warm. Nothing warms like a good bowl of soup or chouder, as it was spelled in the first known recipe published by the Boston Evening Post on September 23, 1751.     Enough for the history lesson.  How do we make this stuff really good?


I went a slightly healthy route with the Clam Chowder we made in our Soups, Stews and Biscuits Class in January.  We didn’t use bacon (the salt pork), sacrilege, I know.  and we didn’t use cream – double sacrilege.  I find that when people make from scratch the dishes that they are used to eating in restaurants, they are shocked to see what is actually in them, so I decided to make the calorie count on this dish not too alarming, but still make it taste really good.  We used a roux (flour and butter) to thicken the chowder.    Jasper White presumes that the origins of adding a roux to clam chowder began in the restaurant industry.  Typically a chowder is thickened by the starch in the potato, and he claims that most restaurant chefs either don’t add enough potatoes or add already cooked potatoes at the end of the process.  Plus, they’ve been trained to make roux-based sauces when they learned the five mother sauces in culinary school.

At any rate, this recipe is going to be very similar to the Clam Chowder you’ve eaten in restaurants all your life.

Cook onion until translucent, then add celery.

Cook onion until translucent, then add celery.

Start with the onions and cook them in butter – or if you must, with some chopped bacon.  I like to add celery to give the clam chowder some crunch and color.  Next add the flour and stir really well to create your roux.  Cook the roux for about 5 minutes or slightly longer. Make sure every grain of flour is coated with the butter.

Clam juice and some of the milk is added.

Clam juice and some of the milk is added.

After adding milk or cream, cook until it coats your spoon fairly heavily.

After adding milk or cream, cook until it coats your spoon fairly heavily.

Then add the clam juice.  Stir until thickened.  The last step of the base is to add the milk or a light cream if you must. The density of the clam chowder is a matter of preference.  I don’t want it to be pasty thick, but thick enough to coat the spoon heavily.

In the final minutes, add in the clams.

In the final minutes, add in the clams.

Wait to add the clams until right before you are going to serve the Clam Chowder, so you don’t overcook them.  Overcooking will cause the clams to be rubbery in texture.  I’ve use canned clams; easy to keep in the pantry, so you can make Clam Chowder any old time.    You may have access to fresh, so adjust accordingly.

Clam chowder is meaty, thick and tasty.

Clam chowder is meaty, thick and tasty.

Clam Chowder is ready to serve.  Full of lots of the good stuff!

Print This Recipe

Clam Chowder

  • 3 6.5 ounce cans chopped clams
  • 2 cups clam juice
  • 1/4  cup butter
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled and 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk or light cream
  • 1 pinch fresh ground pepper and kosher salt to taste

1. Strain clams and reserve the juice in a measuring cup.  Add more clam juice to equal 2 cups total.  Set aside.

2. Melt butter in a large saucepan.  Cook onions on low heat until translucent. Add celery and cook a few more minutes.    Add flour and stir until the flour is coated in the butter.  Cook for a few more minutes on low heat.

3. Add premeasured clam juice, thyme sprigs and bay leaf to butter mixture and stir until combined.  Add in potatoes and cook until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally as mixture thickens.  As it thickens begin to add milk.  Once potatoes are tender, remove from heat.

4. Add clams and cook on low about 5 minutes and serve.  Do not overcook the clams.   Remove thyme sprigs and bay leaf.  Season with pepper.  Soup should have enough salt, but add more if desired.

Servings: 8   175 calories per serving

Total Time: 30 minutes

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