This clam chowder is ultra creamy and rich, and packed with savory flavors that will make your mouth water. Homemade clam chowder is so much better than anything from a can, and easier to make than you may think!
This is one of my Soup recipes I know you’ll want to keep on hand!
It’s the middle of Winter in the Midwest, which means it’s perfect soup weather!
Clam chowder is an all-time favorite of mine… so creamy, flavorful, yet it still tastes fresh. Usually I’m not a huge fan of seafood, but I am alllllways in the mood for some rich clam chowder!
This isn’t a new recipe for the website, in fact it’s been around since 2014.
But I thought it was ready for a refreshed look, and some updated (and more clear) instructions.
Originally, this recipe called for steaming fresh clams, which while delicious, isn’t super practical for a lot of people. So I’ve updated it to use canned clams, but don’t worry… those fresh clams instructions are still available, just check below the recipe in the “chef tips” section.
How to make New England-style clam chowder?
This is just an overview; the full ingredients and directions are in the recipe card toward the bottom of this post.
- Cook bacon. Once bacon is cooked until crispy, remove with a slotted spoon to a plate, and keep the bacon drippings in the pot.
- Cook veggies. In this recipe, that’s the onion, celery, and leeks. Cook until softened.
- Add flour. This will form the base of the roux that will thicken the chowder. Stir and cook for a minute.
- Add soup ingredients and simmer. This is the potatoes, chicken broth, clam juice, seasonings, and tabasco sauce. Simmer, covered, until potatoes are fork tender.
- Add dairy and clams. Stir and cook several minutes, until hot throughout and thickened as much as you’d like.
How to steam fresh clams (if you want to use them in this recipe)?
- Clean. First things first, make sure you give the clams a good scrub to remove as much grit as possible.
- Bring to simmer. It’s hard to tell in the photo, but there’s water, chicken broth, and garlic cloves in that saucepan.
- Add clams. Make sure to cover the pan with a lid, and simmer/steam for 6-7 minutes.
- Discard some. If any clams don’t open up after being steamed, go ahead and discard those, they’re not good to eat.
- Chop. Scoop out the clam meat, and chop!
Everyone has their own idea of how thick a chowder should be. As written, this is the way we like it. However you can easily adapt the recipe to make your chowder thicker or thinner than as written. Check the “chef tips” section right below the recipe instructions for all the details.
Variations of this recipe
- Fresh clams – if you’d like to try your hand at steaming some fresh clams for this recipe, you’re in luck! Check the “chef tips” section right below the recipe instructions for all the details.
- No leeks – we love the flavor of leeks in this soup, but if you’d rather not use them, feel free to add an additional 1/2 cup of minced onion in place of the leeks.
- Different potatoes – this recipe will work well with red potatoes, yukon gold potatoes, or russet potatoes. For the russets and yukon golds I do recommend peeling them first though.
- Thicker/Thinner – everyone has their own idea of how thick a chowder should be. As written, this is the way we like it. However you can easily adapt the recipe to make your chowder thicker or thinner than as written. Check the “chef tips” section right below the recipe instructions for all the details.
- Other dairy – instead of half and half, feel free to use whole milk, or a mixture of whole milk and heavy cream. You just need to have 4 total cups of dairy.
- Other cooking methods – while I’m sure this recipe could be adapted to be made in a slow cooker or Instant Pot, I haven’t tested this to be sure of what would need to change.
No, this is just my way of recreating great New England-Style clam chowder we’ve had from restaurants, and I make zero claims of authenticity for this recipe. As of yet, I haven’t traveled to New England, let alone have authentic recipes from that region.
From what I can gather, there are three main types of clam chowders. The New England style (which has a creamy base and is generally thicker), Manhattan style (which has a broth-y base and uses tomatoes), and Rhode Island style (which has a broth-y base, but no tomatoes). Personally, New England style is a hands-down winner.
Leeks resemble a giant scallion, in that there are layers and layers that dirt and grit can get down into. First, slice off the roots, and the last couple inches of the dark green tops, and discard. Rinse the leek to remove visible dirt, then chop/slice into whatever size the recipe requires. Fill a large bowl with cold water, and add the chopped leeks to the bowl. Agitate the leeks a bit with your hand, and let them sit for a few minutes. The dirt/grit/sand will fall to the bottom of the bowl. Now remove the chopped leeks with a slotted spoon (or your hand), and place on a paper towel to dry.
Making clam chowder ahead of time
Not only can you make the whole soup ahead of time (in fact, the flavors get even better!), you can also prep a lot of the ingredients ahead of time to really cut down on the prep time.
How to prep ahead for this recipe:
- Bacon – the bacon can be diced and kept refrigerated for a few days.
- Veggies – the onion, celery, and leeks can be diced and kept refrigerated for a few days.
- Spices – the salt, pepper, thyme, and bay leaves can be combined and covered at room temperature until ready to use.
- Clams – if you’re steaming fresh clams, they can be steamed, the meat scooped out, and chopped, then kept refrigerated for a day or so.
Leftover chowder should be refrigerate in an airtight container and enjoyed within 3-4 days.
Reheat gently on the stovetop, adding a splash of chicken broth or half and half (or your preferred dairy) to thin it out. Sometimes the potatoes can soak up some of that extra liquid during storage.
Due to the dairy and potatoes in the recipe, I don’t recommend freezing this soup. Dairy can separate during the freezing and thawing process, and the texture of the potatoes isn’t all that pleasant.
To me, no soup is complete without some great toppings and dippers. So below are my favorite ways to top the chowder, as well as what to serve alongside.
- Top with oyster crackers – traditional, but it’s a classic topping for a reason… it’s tasty!
- Top with croutons – this may sound weird, but try it… it’s like a SUPER flavorful oyster cracker!
- Top with more bacon – because more bacon is always a good thing.
- Top with fresh green – I like to top rich dishes with a pop of something fresh like sliced green onion.
- Serve with a big piece of crusty bread – perfect for dunking!
- Serve clam chowder IN a bread bowl – doesn’t get much better than that!
Recipe originally published in 2014 and has been updated with new photos, a more approachable method, and updated instructions.
Did you make this? Be sure to leave a review below and tag me @the_chunky_chef on Facebook and Instagram!
- 6 slices bacon diced
- 1 cup yellow onion diced (about 1 medium onion)
- 1 cup celery diced (about 2 stalks)
- 1 cup leeks sliced thinly (about 1 large leek)
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups red potatoes diced (about 1 lb.)
- 3 cups reduced sodium chicken broth or stock
- 3/4 cup clam juice (bottled is fine)
- 1/2 – 3/4 Tbsp dried thyme
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 4 dried bay leaves
- 1 1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce or your favorite hot sauce
- 2 – 3 cans (6.5 oz each) chopped or minced clams drained
- 4 cups half and half
- sliced green onions for garnish, optional
- You'll need a large pot to make this soup, I like to use my 7 quart dutch oven.
Crisp the bacon
- Heat a large pot over MED-LOW heat, then add bacon pieces and cook until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon (or tongs) to a paper towel lined plate, reserving drippings in the pot.
- Increase heat to MED, then add onion, celery and leeks and sauté about 3-4 minutes, until soft. Add flour and stir to coat vegetables. Cook 1 minute, stirring often.
Add liquids and potatoes
- Add diced potatoes, chicken broth, clam juice, thyme, salt, pepper, bay leaves, and tabasco sauce. Stir well, then bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, reduce heat and cover, simmering about 15 minutes or so, until potatoes are fork tender.
Add dairy and clams
- Add canned clams, and pour in half and half stirring well to combine.
- Cook over MED heat, stirring often, about 5 minutes, or until heated through and thickened to desired consistency.
- Taste, then add salt and pepper if needed. Serve topped with cooked bacon, oyster crackers, sliced green onions and enjoy!
Want to save this recipe for later? Click the heart in the bottom right corner to save to your own recipe box!
- Half and half is a common dairy product in the US: https://www.thekitchn.com/what-is-halfandhalf-ingredient-intelligence-205959
- In place of half and half, please feel free to use 2 1/2 cups whole milk, and 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream.
To make clam chowder thicker:
- Feel free to simmer the chowder longer, or mash some of the potatoes with a potato masher.
- You can also mix about 2 tsp of cornstarch with 1 Tbsp of cold water until smooth, then stir that into the chowder and simmer.
To make clam chowder thinner:
- You can thin out this chowder by adding more half and half than called for, or adding some additional chicken broth/clam juice.
To Use Fresh Clams:
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 6 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 lbs. fresh live clams (scrubbed clean – littleneck or cherrystones are best)
- Bring water, chicken broth, and garlic to a low boil in a saucepan (one with a lid) over MED heat.
- Once boiling, add clams, cover with lid, and steam for 6-7 minutes, or until the clams have opened up.
- Discard any clams that don’t open up after steaming.
- Drain, then scoop the meat out of the shells, and chop. You’ll need about 3/4 – 1 cup of chopped clams for this recipe.
The Chunky Chef is not a dietician or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is an estimate. If calorie count and other nutritional values are important to you, we recommend running the ingredients through whichever online nutritional calculator you prefer. Calories can vary quite a bit depending on which brands were used.