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New England Clam Chowder has tender fresh clams and potatoes in a flavorful cream broth. Enjoy an authentic taste of summer in New England – anytime of the year!
Living in coastal New England (as we do), a recipe for New England Clam Chowder in your go-to recipe collection is an absolute must. And – if your recipe is an award-winning recipe like this one – even better!
Years ago, my husband Jack was part of a team that took first place at the Newport Chowder Festival, which is held every summer at the Newport Yachting Center Marina in Rhode Island. For that cook-off, the team made 90 gallons of chowder and every last drop was eaten – it’s that good! We’re sharing a family-sized version of that recipe with you today.
This New England Clam Chowder is absolutely delicious. Tender clams and potatoes are combined in a creamy broth flavored with clam juice and cream, and a little bit of salt pork and bacon give this chowder a subtle, smoky taste that perfectly complements the flavors of the clams.
Jack has very strong opinions about what makes a good New England clam chowder. Fresh clams and simple flavors are a must, and the consistency of a good New England clam chowder is not too thick and not too watery – somewhere in between is perfect.
Key Ingredients and Substitutions
- Fresh Clams – Jack recommends using fresh cherrystone clams because they are smaller and more tender than quahogs which are the type of clam typically used in clam chowders. Having said that, the less-expensive quahogs can be used, as can little necks. In a pinch – if you can’t find fresh clams locally – frozen clams are another alternative.
- Clam Stock – Save the liquid used to cook the fresh clams and reduce down into a flavorful clam stock. If you are using frozen clams, swap in bottled clam juice instead.
- Salt Pork and Bacon – Both of these cured meats add a wonderful, smoky flavor to the broth, and the rendered fat is used to saute some of the other vegetables.
- Russet Potatoes – Russets, when cooked, are a nice tender texture in all kinds of chowders. While other types of potatoes can be used instead, we think the mild flavor of russets is best.
- Heavy Cream – When combined with the clam stock, heavy cream will give your chowder the best creamy consistency. Light cream or half and half can be substituted, but they won’t give your clam chowder the same luxurious consistency.
If you prefer a thicker consistency for your chowder, you can increase the amount of flour in the recipe by a tablespoon or two.
How do I make New England Clam Chowder?
- Scrub the shells of each clam, making sure they are clean of any dirt and debris. Give each clam a squeeze and only cook the clams that stay closed on their own – you don’t want to cook clams that are no longer alive.
- Boil a pot of water and cook the clams until they pop open – removing the open and cooked clam shells to a tray to cool. If any clams refuse to open, discard those as well.
- Strain the cooking liquid, then simmer to reduce into a clam stock.
- Remove the cooked clams from their shells, and separate the bellies from the neck. Use a knife to clean out the bellies, then chop the meat of the clams into bite-sized pieces.
- Saute salt pork and bacon in the bottom of a stockpot, then add butter, onions, garlic, and half the potatoes. Cook until the onions are translucent, then add flour.
- Pour in the clam stock, the rest of the potatoes and herbs. Simmer until the potatoes are tender.
- Remove the pot from the heat, then add the chopped clams and cream.
- Season with salt and pepper as needed (you may not need to add any salt), and then serve immediately with a dollop of butter on top and oyster crackers.
Frequently Asked Questions
What do I serve with New England Clam Chowder? In New England, clam chowder is most often served with oyster crackers or common crackers.
Can I make New England Clam Chowder ahead of time? Yes. Make it up to a day ahead of serving but don’t add the cream until you are ready to serve.
How do I reheat clam chowder? Reheat in a pot on the stove over low heat, stirring frequently to avoid scorching on the bottom of your pot. Heat only until warmed through and avoid simmering or boiling as the cream will start to separate.
Can I freeze Clam Chowder? We don’t recommend it as the cream may separate and the potatoes will get mushy. If you do freeze, freeze before adding the cream. Then thaw, heat and add the cream before serving.
Can I make Clam Chowder in a slow cooker? We don’t recommend it because the clams will get overcooked, tough and chewy.
Our New England Clam Chowder recipe originally appeared on A Family Feast in April 2013. We’ve updated the post and photos; the delicious recipe remains the same.
You might enjoy these other New England classic recipes:
- New England Turkey Chowder
- New England Fish Fry
- New England Boiled Dinner (Corned Beef and Cabbage)
- New England Apple Cider Cake
- New England Lobster Roll
- New England Pumpkin Caramel Pudding
- 5 pounds of live cherrystone clams in shells (or quahogs), shells scrubbed. Note: If you live in an area where you can’t buy fresh clams, substitute 10 ounces of canned or frozen chopped clams and 3 cups of bottled clam juice. If cherrystones are not available and you use little necks, you will need to double the quantity of live clams since the yield will be much less.
- 1 ounce of salt pork, diced
- 1 ½ ounces of bacon, diced fine
- 2 tablespoon butter
- ¼ cup minced celery
- 1 cup of onion, chopped
- 2 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
- 1 ¼ pounds Russet potatoes, peeled and ½” diced
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 3 cups of stock from cooking the clams
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups heavy cream
- Black pepper
- Butter for serving
- Oyster crackers for serving
- In a pan large enough to hold the clams, bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add clams and cover the pot. Cook over medium high heat for 7-9 minutes until they pop open (5-6 minutes if using little necks). If any clams don’t open, discard. Remove clams from broth and transfer to a sheet tray. Reserve the broth. Strain broth through a fine sieve lined with a coffee filter or cheese cloth. Strain a few times to remove all traces of sand.
- If broth is more than three cups, boil down to three cups to intensify flavor.
- Remove the clams from the shells. With a sharp knife, separate the belly and cut the rest of the meat into bite sized pieces. Then split the bellies lengthwise and scrape out and discard the contents. Cut bellies and add to the reserved chopped clams. Discard shells.
- If using little necks instead of cherrystones, after cooking lay the shelled clam on your cutting board and press a small knife across the belly to squeeze out the belly contents. The meat can be left whole.
- In a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, cook diced salt pork and bacon until rendered and slightly browned, about 5-10 minutes. Add butter and melt.
- Add celery, onions, garlic and half the potatoes and cook for about ten minutes or until onions are translucent. Stir often. Add flour and cook for another minute.
- Add 3 cups of reserved broth, the rest of the potatoes, thyme and bay leaf and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 10-15 minutes.
- Once potatoes are tender, remove the pot from the heat, discard bay leaf and add chopped clams and cream. (If you are making this ahead of time, do not add the cream until you are ready to heat and serve.)
- Season chowder with pepper as needed and heat to serving temperature. Depending on how briny the clams are and since this recipe used salt pork, you may not need to put in additional salt.
- Serve with a dollop of butter over each portion and oyster crackers on the side.
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