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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