Creamy Clam Chowder Recipe

"It's hard to imagine a dish more identified with New England cuisine than creamy clam chowder," says food blogger and photographer Ksenia Prints of At the Immigrant's Table. Whether you order it in Boston, Rhode Island, or upstate New York, you can always expect to get a bowl of fragrant, creamy bisque with pieces of seafood floating in it.

Yet there is plenty of regional variation within this ubiquitous American dish. In this recipe, we provide a foolproof creamy clam chowder recipe that anyone would love. From there, we suggest a few regional variations for this classic.

For best results, we encourage you to experiment with your favorite toppings and flavorings until you reach your very own, trademark clam chowder recipe.

Served with a few slices of buttery toast, this tasty, creamy clam chowder makes for an easy, elegant weeknight dinner that will make you feel like you're on a New England beach vacation.

Gather the ingredients

For our classic version of creamy clam chowder, we have opted to use more affordable and easy-to-find canned clams. If you prefer, feel free to use 1 ½ pounds of fresh clams in their place — you'll need to cook them longer to ensure they all open (if using fresh clams, take care to rinse and clean them well, to avoid any sand or grit from ending up in your soup). You'll want to drain the clams from the can, but reserve the clam juice, as we'll add that into the chowder.

Other than clams, this clam chowder needs bacon, onion, garlic, potatoes, and fresh parsley. You'll need to dice the bacon, onion, potatoes, and parsley, and mince the garlic.

We also use chicken broth, heavy cream, butter, and salt and pepper to flavor our broth. Don't worry if this seems like a short list: the majority of the flavor comes from the clams themselves.

Cook the bacon

Now that we have all of our ingredients, it's time to get cooking.

First off, it's important that you pick a large, heavy-bottomed pot for making this creamy clam chowder. This will prevent the bacon from burning and the broth from overflowing once all the ingredients are in. A Dutch oven or a large stock pot would be perfect here.

In a large pot or Dutch oven, set to medium heat, fry the diced bacon until it is crispy, about 5 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to soak up some of the bacon grease. Do not wipe your pot!

Saute garlic and onion in butter

To the same large pot in which you cooked the bacon, add the butter. Set the heat to medium-low heat.

Once the butter has melted, add the diced onions and minced garlic. Cook until the onion changes color and becomes translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Watch the pot during this part, as garlic has a tendency to burn very quickly. If needed, stir the pot often to prevent sticking. You may even decide to lower the heat or add a touch more butter. This will not hurt the end result, so don't worry and follow your gut. Our goal is to soften the onions and garlic and extract their natural sweetness.

Add the broth and cook the potatoes

The base of flavor in clam chowder comes from the broth, so let's pour all our love into making this part!

To the large pot with the garlic and onions, add the broth and all the reserved clam juice (do not add the actual clams just yet). The clam juice contains a lot of extra flavor, and you don't want to waste it. Increase the heat to medium and bring the broth to a boil.

Once the broth is boiling, add the diced potatoes. Cover the pot with a lid and bring to a simmer on medium heat. Stir and let cook, covered, until potatoes have softened, about 15 minutes. Test the potatoes for doneness with a fork — they should be easily pierced and may even crumble (if you want your potatoes to really fall apart, cook them even longer, 20 to 30 minutes. This will result in a thicker stock).

Flavor the clam chowder with cream and seasonings

With your potatoes sufficiently softened, it's time to finish off our chowder.

To our soup pot, add the heavy cream, drained canned clams, and the majority of the cooked bacon (reserve 2 tablespoons for topping the bowls). On medium heat, bring the broth to a simmer and cook until heated through, an additional 1 to 2 minutes. Canned clams are already cooked, so there's no need to boil them to death — we actually want them to retain their texture and bite.

Add the fresh chopped parsley, salt, and pepper to the pot. Taste the chowder and correct the seasonings as needed.

Serve creamy clam chowder with a generous sprinkle of parsley and crusty bread

Serve the clam chowder immediately, topped with additional parsley and reserved bacon bits, and served with pieces of toasted, crusty bread on the side. You may also want to accompany the soup with lemon wedges when serving.

Creamy clam chowder goes very well with a bitter IPA, or even a heavy stout like Guinness. For a less filling option and a study in contrast, we love pairing steaming chowder with a glass of ice cold, full-bodied white wine, like a Chardonnay.

Creamy clam chowder will keep in an airtight container in the freezer for 3 days.

Try these creamy clam chowder adaptations

While creamy clam chowder can be found throughout the New England coast, regional variations of this classic dish have crept up as far south as Manhattan. Here are some of other favorite alternative clam chowder adaptations:

For Manhattan-style clam chowder, add 1 cup peeled, seeded, and diced tomatoes alongside the broth and potatoes.

For Rhode Island clam chowder, swap out the heavy cream for more broth and use ½ cup minced celery in place of the potatoes.

For dairy-free clam chowder, omit the heavy cream and substitute it with more broth.

For vegetarian creamy clam chowder, omit the bacon.

To reduce the calories of this dish, use milk or half-and-half in place of the cream.

Creamy Clam Chowder Recipe
5 from 23 ratings
A classic, easy clam chowder, made with cream, canned clams, and bacon, topped with parsley. This soup is just begging to be slurped!
Prep Time
10
minutes
Cook Time
23
minutes
Servings
6
servings
bowl of creamy clam chowder and big pot
Total time: 33 minutes
Ingredients
  • 4 slices bacon, diced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, peeled and minced
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 (6.5-ounce) cans chopped clams, juices reserved
  • 2 large potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and diced into ¼-inch pieces
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup diced fresh parsley, plus more for topping
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Optional Ingredients
  • Crusty toasted bread, for serving
Directions
  1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, set the heat to medium and fry the bacon until it is crispy, about 5 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.
  2. Melt the butter in the same pot. Add the garlic and onion and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, until onion becomes translucent.
  3. Pour in the broth and reserved clam juice and bring to a boil.
  4. Add the diced potatoes and let cook until the potatoes have softened, about 15 minutes.
  5. Add the cream, clams, and bacon (reserve 2 tablespoons for topping bowls) and let simmer until heated through, an additional 1 to 2 minutes.
  6. Add the diced parsley, salt, and pepper. Taste and correct seasonings as needed.
  7. Serve clam chowder immediately, topped with additional parsley and reserved bacon bits, and served with pieces of toasted, crusty bread on the side if desired.
Nutrition
Calories per Serving 425
Total Fat 28.3 g
Saturated Fat 14.6 g
Trans Fat 0.2 g
Cholesterol 110.4 mg
Total Carbohydrates 20.9 g
Dietary Fiber 2.0 g
Total Sugars 4.0 g
Sodium 717.4 mg
Protein 21.9 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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