Clam chowder is a double classic, featuring both a creamy New England style and a brothy Manhattan version.
We love all that cream in the New England version, but its rich heartiness makes it a winter dish for us. Come spring, we like lighter, healthier Manhattan Clam Chowder. Plus, it’s a great way to load up on vegetables.
Serve this for dinner and you’ll know where the saying “happy as a clam” comes from.
This recipe is a great “go to” because we usually have all the ingredients in our pantry. Canned clams work extremely well in chowder, and we often have a tin of them around. (Though if you happen to have fresh clams, by all means use them – their flavor has more sparkle.)
When it comes to overall flavor, however, we think the most important factor in this dish is the addition of a good fish stock or bottled clam juice. You can make your own fish stock, but it’s easier to use a commercial soup base (see Notes for more information).
Prep time for this dish is maybe 10 minutes. Cooking time adds about 30 minutes.
This dish yields 4 first-course servings, or 2 hefty main-course servings. Leftovers can be frozen in an airtight container and stored for about a month.
- 2 strips of bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 to 2 celery ribs, cut into slices (to taste)
- salt to taste (~½ teaspoon kosher salt for us; see Notes)
- 1 clove garlic, minced or finely sliced (optional)
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme (see Notes for alternatives)
- ¼ teaspoon celery seed
- ~12 ounces waxy potatoes, diced (or more to taste)
- 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 3 cups fish stock or clam juice (see Notes)
- 2 six-ounce cans canned clams (see Notes)
- oyster crackers for garnish (optional)
- Add the bacon pieces to a cold 4-quart sauce pan or soup pot. Place the pan on medium stovetop heat, then cook until the bacon pieces are brown and crisp (5 minutes or so) and the bacon fat renders.
- Push the bacon pieces to the side of the pan, then add the chopped onion and celery to the bacon fat. Add salt to taste, then sauté until the onion is translucent (5 minutes or so).
- Add the chopped garlic (if using) and sauté for 1 minute. Add the red pepper flakes (if using), dried thyme, celery seed, chopped potatoes, canned tomatoes, and fish stock (or clam juice). Simmer for 15 minutes.
- Add the canned clams (undrained) and simmer for another 5 minutes.
- Taste, adjust the seasoning if necessary, and serve. We like to add a garnish of oyster crackers.
- We sometimes stir a few tablespoons of minced parsley into the chowder right before serving.
- Black pepper is excellent with this dish. We always add it at table.
- Exact measurements are not critical for this recipe. In particular, you might want to add more tomato. And maybe more clams.
- We sometimes add chopped green bell pepper and/or carrots to this dish.
- Thyme is our herb of choice in this dish, but oregano works extremely well too.
- We sometimes add a teaspoon of Old Bay seasoning blend to this chowder. Alternatively, you could skip the thyme, celery seed, and red pepper flakes, and instead use 2 teaspoons of Old Bay.
- Making your own homemade fish stock is a bit of a production. So these days, we usually make stock from a commercial soup base. You can buy clam base, but we generally use fish base – the flavor works quite well, and the quality of some of the commercial brands is quite good.
- For fish base, the brands we favor are Better than Bouillon and Minor’s. Everything we’ve tried from both companies is good quality (sometimes extremely good). BTW, our usual disclaimer: We’re noncommercial and do not benefit from mentioning brands. We suggest what we use (and buy with our own money).
- Don’t want to use fish base? You can use commercial bottled clam juice instead. You’ll typically find it on the same grocery shelf with the canned clams.
- We generally use canned minced or chopped clams when we make this dish, although whole canned clams are also an attractive choice. We think two 6-ounce cans are sufficient in this recipe, but add another can if you want the chowder to be extra clammy.
- Want to use fresh clams? You’ll need about 3 pounds. Scrub them, then steam them in a couple cups of water just until they open (if you cook them too long, they’ll get tough). Let them cool, then remove the meat from the clams and chop it (discard the shells). You can strain the cooking liquid and use it instead of the fish stock or clam juice we call for in the recipe.
- BTW, if you want to make fish chowder instead of clam, you can substitute fresh fish pieces for clams. Just add them to the chowder about 10 minutes before serving and poach them in the chowder until fully cooked.
- Salt pork (not bacon) is traditional in chowder. But it’s getting harder to find decent salt pork these days, and we always have bacon on hand. So that’s what we’re using.
- Pancetta would make an interesting substitute. Use a couple of ounces.
- Or you could skip the meat and use olive oil or butter instead.
- We use kosher salt in cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger and more irregular, so they pack a measure less tightly). If you use table salt, start with about half the amount we suggest. But always season to your taste, not ours.
- Most people know about Manhattan Clam Chowder and New England Clam Chowder. Less well known is Rhode Island Clam Chowder. It’s similar to the Manhattan version but is even brothier and usually doesn’t include tomato (though some versions contain a small amount of tomato purée).
“Yum! Love clam chowder,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Glad you dug out this recipe.”
“Always a shellabration when we make this,” I said.
“You just had to mussel that line in, didn’t you?” said Mrs K R.
“Keep clam and eat more chowder,” I said.
“That’s so spe-shell,” said Mrs K R. “Not.”
Maybe I better clam up now.
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Yum! Cooking the fresh clams in their shells directly in the broth would also boost the flavor.
Hi Fran, it would! Gotta watch out for sand, though (but that's rarely a problem these days, as long as you scrub the shells). Thanks for the comment.
I haven't had fresh clams in a really long while. Your chowder looks so inviting and delicious, John.
HI Angie, fresh clams are wonderful, but in a dish like this we think canned are pretty good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
That's much more complex than any clam chowder recipe I've ever followed. I'm sure it would also be much tastier!
best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com
Hi Mae, it's really tasty. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This is delightful and you are spoilt by having access to clams in a tin. We occasionally see then freshly cryvaced for sale so I will get some next time and cook your dish. We love good seafood chowder but yours is steeped in history. Thanks for sharing John.
I am a big fan of clam chowder. Your recipe sounds amazing. I can just imagine would great it would taste.
Hi Merryn, you'll love this! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Dawn, it IS really great. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I've eaten A TON of New England clam chowder, but never Manhattan. It's quite different, but still looks absolutely delicious. Thanks for sharing your recipe.
Hi MJ, we've eaten a ton of both. :-) Although probably more New England than Manhattan. Can never decide which I like better. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Such a homey and delicious chowder!
I love when chowder or any other soup is chunky and thick - basically a cross between soup and stew. So this version looks like a perfection to me :) Excellent!
Hi Denise, it is, it is. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Ben, we do too! The more texture the better. :-) Thanks for the comment.
So I still have never had clam chowder Manhattan style. Guess it's time for a shell-ebration!
Hi Abbe, it most certainly is. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I love clam chowder! We usually go clam digging in the summer and always make it with fresh clams when we have them but canned clams are a good stand-in.
This is such a drawcard for me I have already been querying our supermarkets for tinned clams - all OK ! We even have 3-4 kinds from the States but the 500 gm tins of whole New Zealand ones sound most moreish and special . . . ! I know I have enjoyed the New England version but, these days, your Manhattan one makes a louder call :) ! But, oh, when will the US change over to the metric system . . . this evening maths 'thing' takes time !!! We did it 60 years ago . . .
I always save my shrimp shells (we eat a lot of shrimp) and they make a great base for a free seafood stock. I also save liquid from steaming mussels, clams or crab. When the freezer gets too full, it's time for chowder.
My mouth is watering as I read this. I have never bought canned mussels, which I think is what we call them. I'll have to look to see if we can, our mussels are very seasonal and often frozen now so this recipe has potential for me.I love a good bouillabaisse so I know I would love this, great recipe, thanks KR.
that looks very brothy, and very warming. i tend to think of chowder as thick and creamy, not that chowder is much of a 'thing' here in australia. but then again, we do have creamy thick soups ...
Very different unique recipe with so rich ingredients! I am sure it must be sooo delicious.
I really like your recipe. It maintains the idea of the tomato broth while at the same time making the taste clam forward. Thanks for this recipe.
Like Abbe, I haven't had this version, either. This would be an excellent Lenten Friday dinner!!!
I love clam chowder but I never had this version. Sounds delicious!
Hi Dahn, fresh clams are definitely better; but canned are, as you say, definitely a good stand-in. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Eha, weird thing about the US & metric is some industries ARE all metric -- car and airline manufacturers, for example. But for other things we keep clinging to those traditional British measurements! Which are so inefficient, particularly when it comes to cooking (I've often seen recipes where it's not clean whether an "ounce" means a weight or a liquid measure, for example). Anyway, this is the sort of dish that you can kinda "wing it" with measures, so fewer worries than with some recipes. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi IDHAB, shrimp shells do make a great seafood base, and we do the same thing. But the soup bases are pretty good. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Pauline, clams and mussels are similar (and canned mussels would work in this), but clam can be quite a bit larger. Which is why we usually chop the larger ones, and use the tiny ones whole (I'd use mussels whole, for example). Thanks for the comment.
Hi Sherry, the cream-based chowders are definitely thick. And I always think "thick" when it comes to chowder, too. But I actually think I may prefer the brothy ones better these days -- much healthier. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi B&S, it is! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Bernadette, clam forward is what we want in chowder! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Liz, drop the bacon and this would be perfect for Lent. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Holly, really worth trying this version -- good stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Oh yum! I love Manhattan chowder because sometimes the creamy New England version is too heavy. And of course we can add all the veggies in this version.
Hi Laura, much as we love New England Clam Chowder, have to agree about the heaviness -- too much is too much. This style of chowder is perfect, though, particularly for this time of the year. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I’m genetically encoded (parents from New England) to prefer the creamy, New England style, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love a beautiful bowl of Manhattan clam chowder. Yours looks fantastic, John — and the oyster crackers? One of my favorite parts of any bowl of chowder!
Hi David, we can never resist oyster crackers! And for years the New England style of chowder was the only one I'd eat. And still love the stuff. But these days, I think Manhattan is my favorite. Maybe I should have a bowl of each as a taste test? :-) Thanks for the comment.
I never think to buy canned clams, but I am going to add them to my shopping list for this week. Even though TheHub does not like soup this time of year, I would enjoy this for lunch. As long as I leave out the potatoes, and replace them with cauliflower this will be a great keto dish.
Hi Anne, cauliflower would be great in this. And this recipe freezes pretty well, which is a bonus. Thanks for the comment.
Such a nice classic, I am a fan of chowders, any type would do. Specially the seafood ones using fresh shellfish, they give tons of flavours. Luckily I live in a place where there are tons of them
Hi Raymund, you really do live in seafood paradise! Thanks for the comment.
I love clam chowder and I almost always choose New England, but this Manhattan clam chowder looks so good!
Hi Amy, clam chowder, no what which version, is SO worth having! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Love this clear broth version of clam chowder. So hearty but not weighed down by the cream of dairy based chowders. The addition of bacon sounds sublime.
Hi Bobbi, bacon is always sublime, isn't it? :-) Thanks for the comment.
You stole my “happy as a clam” joke now I will have to steal your chowder. GREG
Hi Greg, definitely worth stealing. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Even though I'm from New York, I've always been a New England chowder guy. Having said that, this version of Manhattan Clam chowder looks really good. I may have to rethink my preferences here...
Hi Frank, New England chowder is wonderful! Still, it's rather heavy. This is much lighter. Which sometimes we want. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I used to love clam chowder -- until I became allergic to clams. The tragedy! But I bet this would be every bit as delicious with a mild white fish or even shrimp as a substitute. ;)
Would you believe that I've never had Manhattan clam chowder, only the New England version. I need to try your recipe. Karen (Back Road Journal)
Hi Carolyn, fish is a great substitute for clams. Haven't tried it with shrimp, but that sounds great too. Sorry about the clams, though -- bummer. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Karen, you do need to try Manhattan! Although the New England version is SO good, I'm not surprised you've only had that. :-) Thanks for the comment.
John, you're right, at this time of year this looks ever so much more inviting than the New England. And I've never heard of the Rhode Island!
Hi Jean, this is, to us, the perfect spring and summer clam chowder. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I don't usually have fish broth or clam juice in my pantry but I am sure it must have made the chowder extra flavorful.
Hi Balvinder, we rarely have clam juice on hand, but usually have some sort of seafood soup base in the refrigerator. And yes, extra flavorful. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Clam chowder is one of my favourites and I usually make the Boston version, I’d not heard of the Rhode Island version. It’s still soup weather here so your post is great timing.
Hi Eva, the Rhode Island version isn't that well known outside of parts of New England. It *may* have predated both Manhattan and New England clam chowder. Food history is a bit like cocktail history -- somewhat murky. :-) Thanks for the comment.
John, this is a fantastic version of Manhattan Clam Chowder. Enjoy while the weather is still cool!
Hi Velva, it IS really good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I'm so with you on the vegetables John! We actually count our 2 fruits and 3 vegetables every day. So this version of clam chowder comes out way ahead!
Hi Inger, we do like a creamy-based chowder, but this one is definitely much healthier. And really good! Thanks for the comment.
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