Homemade clam chowder is one of those recipes that every New Englander with a stove and even a mild interest in cooking should master. Fortunately, it’s one of the easiest dishes to make. You cook some bacon (or salt pork). Simmer aromatics (like onions and celery) in the grease, add par-cooked potatoes, clams, clam juice and milk or cream. Simmer a bit, and you’re done.
Here’s how to make clam chowder in step-by-step photos. Just want the recipe? Head on over to the Classic New England Clam Chowder Recipe
HOW TO MAKE CLAM CHOWDER | THE BASICS
Simple…and yet not so simple. Chowder, like politics or religion, can be a matter of deeply held beliefs bordering on prejudices. Some will only consider making chowder if they have seven pounds of freshly hand-dug cherrystone clams in a basket next to the stove. Others will buy the clams from a fishmonger, but this gets expensive, given the amount you’ll need. Then there’s the matter of cleaning the clams, steaming them, straining the liquid for sand, removing and chopping the meat…
If you go to this trouble (and expense), the results can be extraordinary. But we’re partial to a chowder you can make any old day, and we think most of our readers are, too. That means buying frozen chopped clam clam meat and bottled clam juice.
Luckily, one of our favorite New England clam chowder recipes — the one served at the Chatham Fish Pier Market on Cape Cod — is made in just this way. And they were kind enough to share it with us.
The recipe starts, as many great ones do, by browning a few slices of bacon over medium-low heat. Do this in the chowder pot.
When the bacon is nicely browned, remove it from the pot and let it drain on some paper towels. Keep the bacon grease in the pot and add a bit of butter (remember: fat equals flavor). Add finely chopped onion and celery, two bay leaves, and some fresh thyme springs, if you like. Cook until the onions are translucent, then crumble the cooked bacon and return it to the pot.
Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add 2 peeled and cubed potatoes and cook until just barely tender. Drain and set the potatoes aside.
Now this is where things get controversial again. Some consider flour-thickened chowders an abomination, preferring a thinner broth, or one lightly bolstered with crumbled common crackers (Mainers tend to lean more strongly in that direction). Anyone who has choked down a gluey diner chowder so viscous it can hold a spoon upright will understand their aversion.
And yet…when deftly handled, a bit of flour can add a pleasing richness to chowder. And if restaurant chowders are any indication, most customers actually like this ultra-creamy form. So without judgment, and fully acknowledging your right to skip this step, we present:
HOW TO MAKE CLAM CHOWDER | THE ADDING OF THE FLOUR
Stir in the flour (1/3 to 1/2 cup) until evenly combined, then let it sizzle for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly.
Add the first cup of clam broth and stir. The mixture will be very thick.
Continue adding the clam broth, a cup at a time. The base will thin out. Add a pound of chopped clam meat (for best results, buy frozen, not canned) and the cooked potatoes.
Now add your dairy. It can be milk, half-and-half, evaporated milk or light cream, depending on how rich you want the final result to be. Bring to a gentle simmer and let the clams cook until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste (the folks at the Chatham Fish Pier Market prefer white pepper, but we’re nonpartisan). And that’s how to make clam chowder! You can serve it immediately, but it will taste even better the next day. Serve hot with oyster or common crackers (naturally).
Are you a fan of homemade clam chowder?
This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated.