Clam Chowder — An American Classic

  • Time: 2 hours
  • Serves: 6
  • Level: medium

This version is a New England clam chowder, which distinguishes it from other chowders based on tomatoes. It was also our mother’s favourite – perhaps a memory of her upbringing in Rhode Island, where given the chowder’s official name, it must have been a staple.

Clam chowder is an American classic. You will find it on the menu at any American restaurant. And if it's not written on the menu, you can safely assume that it will appear by default at the soup and salad bar.

What you need

Makes approximately 2.5 litres

1 kg parlourde clams

125ml water for the clams

320g smoked back ‘collar’ bacon – 8 slices

850g Maris Piper potatoes

4 large cloves garlic

2 medium onions

3 celery sticks

2 leeks, white only – about 250g in total

25g butter

250ml dry white wine

750ml light fish stock

500ml full fat milk

150ml single cream

1 tbs fresh thyme leaves

3 bay leaves

25g fresh parsley

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

2 large slices white sourdough bread

Virgin olive oil

Dried fine herbs

Salt and pepper

Dad's Recipe Tales

The standard accompaniment to a clam chowder in America is crackers – perhaps originating from ship’s crackers used to thicken on-board fish stews. The cracker of choice is a ‘saltine’ cracker – or an oyster cracker, a small round puffy cracker with the taste of a saltine cracker. I admit that I have a programmed reaction to the combination of chowder and crackers, it triggers memories of childhood, of family, the beach and the sea. However, from a culinary point of view, the crackers are very salty and have a dull floury taste that’s nowhere near as delicious as a homemade crouton. So, if you need to trigger your own memories, or just see what all the fuss is about, you can buy your crackers from an online American food specialist – or you can make my homemade croutons.

How Dad Cooked It

The trick to a good clam chowder, is to get the balance of fish stock, clam cooking liquor and cream right. But, it is not necessary go overboard on clams – or worry about importing bottles of ‘clam juice’ from America. The clam – or fish – flavour of a standard clam chowder is restrained – it is more about the unctions creaminess and soothing comfort of potatoes and leeks. It’s also about the tactile routine of adding generous quantities of crispy bacon and crunchy salty croutons to your bowl of chowder…

  1. Cook the clams. Soak the clams in cold water for 5 minutes, swish them around to clean them and remove any that are cracked or obviously refuse to close. Drain and rinse again and finally drain. Add the water to a large pan, put on the lid and set the heat to high. When the water is boiling and the pan is hot add the clams and put the lid back on. Cook for about 5 minutes shaking the pan often. When all the clams are opened and cooked through, strain in a colander over a large bowl. Allow the clams to cool and strain the clam cooking liquor through a fine sieve into a jug. When the clams are cool, remove the clams from their shells, discarding any clams that have not opened. Set the clams and the cooking liquor to one side.
  2. Cook the potatoes. Scrub, wash and peel the potatoes, cut the potatoes into evenly sized (4cm-5cm) large pieces. Put the peels and the potatoes into a pan and cover with cold water. Add half a teaspoon salt and bring slowly to the boil. Cook the potatoes until tender but firm. Strain and set the potatoes aside to cool. When cool cut into small 15mm chunks. Discard the peelings. Put the potatoes to one side. This method of cooking is designed to retain as much flavour in the potatoes as possible.
  3. Prepare the vegetables. Chop the garlic, onion, and leeks into a small dice. De-vein the celery by breaking off pieces – from inside to outside – at each end and pulling down the stalk. This will catch most of the thick veins that run down the outside of the celery. Chop the celery into a fine dice. Set the vegetables to one side.
  4. Cook the bacon and vegetables. Cut off the rind to the bacon and add to a large pan (which will be used to make the chowder). Chop the bacon into small pieces. Add the bacon to the pan and fry on a medium heat for about 15 minutes to render the fat. Do not let the bacon burn or crisp-up. Remove the bacon, keeping as much fat as possible in the pan. Return the rind to the pan and add the butter and then add the garlic, celery, onion and leek. Add the bay leaves and thyme. Fry on medium high heat for about 20 minutes, until all the vegetables are softened. Add more butter or oil if necessary.
  5. Make the chowder. Add the pepper to the vegetables in the pan. Add the wine and let it boil to burn off the alcohol. Then add the fish stock and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes.
  6. Make the bacon garnish and croutons. Preheat the oven to 200C, Gas6. Add the bacon to a pan and cook on medium high heat until crisp. Drain on kitchen towels. Cut the bread into 1 cm squares. Put into a roasting tin and drizzle a little olive oil over the bread, season with salt and pepper and crumbled fine herbs. Mix well, massaging the oil evenly into the cubes. Put into the oven and cook for about 8 minutes. Toss and turn the croutons after 4 minutes. Drain on kitchen towels.
  7. Thickening the soup. Strain off about one third of the vegetables and add to another pan or bowl with half the potatoes. Add the milk and blend with a stick blender or in an upright blender. Blend very well and pass through a sieve into a bowl or pan, push as much of the vegetable pulp through as possible. Add the thickened milk mixture to the chowder pan and bring gently to a simmer. Add the remaining potatoes and gently bring back to a simmer. Add the clams, the clam liquor (avoiding the sand and grit residue at the bottom of the jug) and the cream. Bring gently back to a simmer.
  8. Serve. Serve the soup in bowls garnished with chopped parsley. Either add the croutons and bacon to the bowls before serving or take separately to the table so that people can help themselves.


If you like this recipe maybe give these recipes a go: Cacciucco Livornese Fish SoupCuttlefish Paella or Hake in Green Sauce.


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