You don’t have to live on a coast to have best New England Clam Chowder in the world. This authentic, stick-to-your-ribs recipe has all the right stuff: bacon, potatoes, cream, and (of course) lots of chopped clams. One big pot of chowda, all in under an hour.
A bowl of clam chowder, a simple salad with Homemade Red Wine Vinaigrette, and a thick slice of warm No-Knead Bread make the ultimate winter’s feast. While you’re cooking, you might as well simmer up a pot of Homemade Meat Sauce to serve over pasta. All of a sudden, Saturday and Sunday eats are done and done.
Unless you’re in Boston, Massachusetts, where all types of chowder flow freely in every restaurant, it can be hard to find an honest-to-goodness, truly delicious white clam chowder. Naturally, the solution to that dilemma—other than a road trip to the East coast—is to make it at home. Don’t think you can’t, because you can. And you absolutely should.
There’s nothing fancy about the recipe, because chowder is basically a simple food, made at home by hungry people everywhere. New Englanders love making this seafood stew at home, often using razor clams, littlenecks, or the catch of the day.
But delicious homemade clam chowder from scratch doesn't have to use fresh clams or any hard-to-find ingredients! No clam digging or shucking required with this recipe, because canned clams work beautifully. Keep some in the pantry when you get the urge.
More than likely, you’ll be amazed at how easy dinner comes together. So amazed, in fact, that you’ll make it again and again.
Making New England Clam Chowder for a boatload of hungry guests? Just click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
Types of chowder:
Believe it or not, a chowder is defined as just a soup containing clams and broth. However, there are a bunch of variations of chowder, all depending on the region, including:
- Long Island
- Rhode Island
- New England
- Clear clam chowder
Even with all the regional varieties, the two most common types of chowder are red (Manhattan style) and white (New England style).
Unlike creamy clam chowder, Manhattan chowder contains tomatoes, but no cream. The tomato-based recipe was such a source of consternation for the state of Maine that in 1939, they tried to pass legislation outlawing the use of tomatoes in their beloved seafood stew. In other words, Manhattan clam chowder could have been illegal in Maine!
Both chowders are wonderful, but this creamy New England version is the one to start with.
Clam Chowder ingredients:
- Bacon. A little of your favorite bacon adds depth and smokiness.
- Onion. Yellow or white onion preferably, to keep the chowder pale.
- Potatoes. Yukon Gold potatoes work well in this recipe—so do waxier potatoes like red potatoes.
- Clam Juice. Clam juice ups the clam flavor, and keeps the chowder from being bland.
- Chicken base. Chicken bouillon works too, but so does chicken stock.
- Half-and half.
- Canned chopped clams, plus the juice they’re in. By the way, if you like it extra clammy, double up on the clams.
- Salt and freshly ground pepper. Some dedicated chowder cooks insist on only using white pepper in chowda, which doesn’t interfere with the chowder’s creamy complexion.
- Carrots. You can add finely diced carrots into the mix—just add them when you add the potatoes.
- Bay leaf. If you love the taste of bay leaf in soups, throw one in!
- Parsley. Fresh green herbs like parsley are always welcome.
- Sherry. A drizzle of dry sherry right before eating is very traditional (and delicious) for seafood soups and chowders.
How to make New England Clam Chowder on the stove:
You will need a large pot with a sturdy bottom, like a Dutch oven, to make this recipe.
- First, cook the bacon until crisp. Once cooked, remove it from the pot and place it on some paper towels to soak up the extra grease.
- To the bacon drippings in the pot, add the onion and celery and cook over medium heat until softened. Then add the thyme and garlic. Give it a quick stir.
- Next, add the potatoes, water, clam juice, and chicken base. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer uncovered until the potatoes are tender. This could take 15 to 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, whisk together the flour with half the amount of cream until smooth. Stir this mixture into the soup and let the pot return to a simmer. Cook the soup until thickened, another 1 to 2 minutes.
- At this point, you can season to taste with salt and pepper. Then add the chopped clams and their juice, along with the remaining half-and-half and stir, cooking until completely heated through.
- Garnish with crumbled crispy bacon and oyster crackers, if you got ‘em!
Slow cooker Clam Chowder:
Crockpot clam chowder to the rescue!
- First, using a skillet on the stove, cook the bacon until crisp. When finished, take out the bacon and set aside on a layer of paper towels. Refrigerate the bacon while the chowder cooks in the slow cooker.
- To the bottom of a slow cooker, add the bacon drippings, onion, potatoes, celery, garlic, water, chicken base, and clam juice. Cook covered on LOW for 7 hours or HIGH for 4 hours.
- Next, whisk together the flour with half the amount of half-and-half until smooth. Stir this mixture into the soup. Then add the clams and their juices and cook on HIGH for 30 more minutes.
- Then season to taste with salt and pepper, and add the remaining half-and-half, cooking until heated through.
- When you serve the soup, garnish with crumbled bacon and lots of oyster crackers. (You may want to heat up the bacon a little in the microwave before serving.)
Tips for making New England Clam Chowder:
- Add extra clams. Cooks who absolutely adore clams might want to double up on the clams, here.
- Don't cook too hot. Like all creamy soups and stews, if cooked at too high a temperature, the soup could scorch.
- Chicken stock. In place of chicken base or bouillon, you may use homemade chicken stock. Just omit the water in the recipe. If you're cooking for a pescatarian, replace the chicken base with vegetable stock and more clam juice.
- Without bacon. Skip the bacon, if you are cooking for someone who can't eat it. It's still going to be wonderful.
- Heavy cream. Yes, heavy cream makes a fantastically indulgent chowder. Go ahead and live a little!
- Healthy clam chowder. Make the chowder with fat-free half-and-half, which many cooks use with great results. Write about it in the comments if you try it!
- Gluten-free chowder. Switch out corn starch for all-purpose flour, but use half the amount called for in the recipe. Cornstarch is pure starch and and has twice the thickening power of flour.
Freezing and storing New England Clam Chowder:
Leftover clam chowder will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days, if stored properly.
To freeze, let the chowder cool and pour into freezer containers or heavy-duty freezer bags and place in the freezer. It should keep for 4 to 6 months.
To reheat frozen clam chowder, allow the soup to thaw overnight in the refrigerator. When ready to eat, gently reheat on the stove using a low temperature, stirring frequently.
New England Clam Chowder Recipe
- 4 slices bacon
- 1 large onion chopped
- 2 stalks celery chopped
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 teaspoon fresh
- 3 small potatoes peeled and cubed
- 1 cup water
- 1 (8 ounce) bottle clam juice
- 1 tablespoon chicken base
- 2 cups half-and-half divided
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 (6 1/2 ounce) cans chopped clams undrained
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Oyster crackers for serving
- In a Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat, add bacon and cook until crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove bacon from pot, drain on paper towels, and crumble. Set aside.
- To the bacon fat, add onion and celery and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and thyme until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Stir in potatoes, water, clam juice, and chicken base. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered until potatoes are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
- In a small bowl, whisk together 1 cup half-and-half and flour until smooth. Gradually stir into soup, return to a simmer, and cook until thickened, about 1 to 2 minutes longer. Season to taste with salt and pepper (I like 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper).
- Add clams and their juice and remaining 1 cup half-and-half and stir until heated through, about 1 minute. Garnish each serving with bacon and oyster crackers.