New England Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder

In a world where most clam chowders would be more aptly named “clam flavored potato soup”, finding a morsel of clam is like winning a Toyota Camry. It’s a feeling of elation that’s quickly tamped down by the realization that the rubbery clam is bland and tasteless.

That’s not a problem you’ll have in my version of the New England classic, as I include nearly 5 pounds of clams! Of course the problem with fresh clams is that they live in the muck at the bottom of the ocean, and so eating clams is often synonymous with eating sand. It’s a weakness of mine. For Superman it’s kryptonite, for others it’s the sound of fingernails scraping across a chalkboard, for me it’s grit in my food. Whether it’s an errant shard of egg shell or a grain of sand in in my clams, one bite is all it takes to ruin an otherwise delicious meal.

This aversion to chewing on dirt is the main reason why I avoided eating these succulent bivalves. That is, until I figured out a series of tricks to get rid of virtually all the sand in the clams. The first thing is to soak the clams in salt water, which will trick them into thinking they’re back in the ocean. After a while, the clams will open up and peak their little necks out, squirting out murky water and taking in the fresh salt water from the bowl. This gets the clams mostly grit-free, but like children, there are always the stubborn ones.

To ensure a truly sand-free experience, I steam the the clams open, remove the meat and then use the clam stock to rinse the clam meat. After letting the grit settle, you can skim the clams off the top, and then carefully transfer the stock to another container leaving the last bit of stock (and remaining sand) in the first bowl.

Once you have your cleaned clams, and clam stock, making New England clam chowder is simple. Bacon, onions, and potatoes are the only things that accompany the clams. Because the clams are steamed rather than boiled, the stock is concentrated enough that you can use milk rather than cream, which means less saturated fat with plenty of richness and flavor.

The resulting chowder is rich and creamy with tender clams and bits of smoky bacon in every bite. Crumble up some oyster crackers or hardtack when you eat it to add some body, and you’ll have a wicked good chowda fah suppaah.

Equipment you'll need:

New England Clam Chowder
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With a few basic ingredients a bunch of whole clams you can make a delicious clam chowder in under an hour.
New England Clam Chowder
Print Recipe
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Votes: 34
Rating: 4.03
Rate this recipe!
With a few basic ingredients a bunch of whole clams you can make a delicious clam chowder in under an hour.
  • 2 kilograms clams Manila, Littleneck or Soft-Shell
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 100 grams slab bacon cut into 1/2-centimeter cubes
  • 1 medium onion minced
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 450 grams potatoes cut into small cubes
  • 1 teaspoon fresh marjoram minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  1. As soon as you bring your clams home from the store (preferably one day before you make the clam chowder) wash the clams with cold water and then put the clams in a bowl with enough salt water to cover the clams ( it should taste like the sea). Put the bowl in your refrigerator. Over the next 24 hours your clams will do their thing and siphon in the clean water expelling most of the grit they hold between their shells. If your clams are really dirty, you may need to change the water periodically.
  2. In a wide pot or sauté pan with a lid, add the clams along with 1/2 cup water. Cover and steam over medium high heat until all the clams have opened. Remove the pot from the heat and uncover. Steamed Clams for Clam Chowder
  3. Remove the clam meat from the shells and transfer to a bowl. Discard any unopened clams. Once all the clams have been shelled, slowly pour the clam stock over the clams, leaving the last tablespoon or so of stock along with any grit in the pot. Wash the pot out.
  4. Agitate the clam mixture to allow any sand to settle to the bottom of the bowl, then let it sit for a minute to allow all the sand to settle to the bottom. Use your fingers or a slotted spoon to scoop the clams off the top of the liquid being careful not to disturb the sand at the bottom. Once you have all the meat separated, give the stock a few minutes to settle, then slowly pour the clam stock into a 2 cup liquid measuring cup, leaving the last bit of stock and any grit behind. You should have 2 cups clam juice, if you have less, add water to make 2 cups. Shelled Clams
  5. Add the olive oil and bacon to the clean pot and fry until most of the fat has rendered from the bacon and it is starting to brown ( but not until its crisp). Bacon for Clam Chowder
  6. Add the onions and sauté until the are tender and browned. Add the flour and continue frying for 1 minute. Roux for Clam Chowder
  7. Turn off the heat, then add the clam stock and milk. Whisk together to dissolve the roux, and then add the potatoes, marjoram and bay leaf. Put the pot over medium heat and bring the pot to a low simmer. Do not let the soup boil.
  8. When the potatoes are tender, remove the bay leaf and return the clams to the pot. Once the clams have reheated the soup is done.

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  • glamourbeastie

    Hi Marc,

    I know what you mean about grit thing, whilst I love clams the second I feel a grain of sand against my teeth it’s pretty much ‘game over’. For purging, I use 30 grams of sea salt to 1 litre of water to mimic the saltiness in seawater. Love your writing!

  • not_configured

    Thanks for posting this. Now I know what to do with thise giant bags of clams at Costco! A question. Would the flavor of the clam stock be affected if I strained it through cheesecloth, or to be really crazy, a paper coffee filter?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Using a coffee filter works good and shouldn’t impart any taste. I wouldn’t recommend cheese cloth because the fine sand will pass through. But really just carefully pouring off the liquid off the top should be fine.

  • Dina

    your chowder looks wonderful!

  • Coco Harris

    Love the Toyota Camry analogy. Too good. Your chowder sounds perfect!

  • Sue

    It looks like a very comforting food. I must have been lucky
    with my clams. I don’t recall having to chew sandy bits… Should watch out
    though. It’s certainly not a pleasant feeling.

    • Marc Matsumoto

      If your grocery store is good, they should have soaked the clams in saltwater already, unfortunately most places in the US don’t do this.

  • Rachael White

    I love me some good clam chowder! It’s been a while since I’ve had any, but with the blizzard we are getting in Denver right now this looks perfect. Beautiful, as always!

  • Caroline

    This soup is gorgeous! I love clam chowder and I love how you’ve diced the vegetables so small. It seems to make it more delicate. Your photos are beautiful.

  • Bee

    I just bookmarked a Fine Cooking clam chowder recipe so I can make it in summer. My friend used to make it with this giant clam caught off the coast in Mendocino. Heaven.

  • ann

    Such delicious looking recipe! I’ve got to try my hands at this very soon. Just so you know, Costco carries very decent fresh clams. Only draw back is the clams are mostly sold prepackaged in a 5 pounds bag. I am not complaining though. :)

  • nuuanumama

    I used this recipe to make a seafood chowder for my Dad’s 90th birthday last night. I doubled the recipe, used the same amount of clams and added the meat from two Dungeness crabs (yeah, picked through all of it while watching a movie) and a bag of lobster claws from Costco (claws were cut so cracked and left just the claw shell tip and picked the meat from the rest of the legs). It was awesome! Thanks for the start, Marc.

  • paulg

    I’m lucky enough to be able to gather my own.
    Last time I made stuffed clams I did this. I scrubbed them with a 3m pad.
    I like the idea of soaking them for 24 but clams can drown if soaked too long so don’t forget they are in there.
    I have had good luck with this. After the 24 hours, drain the pot. Put it into the freezer. Once frozen they are easy to open, put them into a bowl, dice with a fishing knife. Put them into another bowl. Bits of sand or shell settle between the bowls there will be enough liquid.
    This eliminates the problem of them toughening from steaming too long and you
    save all their liquor.

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Great tip, I’m going to try this next time!

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  • Mike Place

    I love your site, found it today and I have 10 tabs open!

    Here’s my question: What are your thoughts on substituting mussels for Clams. I know, I know, “Clam Chowder”. I do want perfect clam chowder, but I’m an American living in Istanbul and while the Sea is everywhere around me, Mussels appear to be my only option. Interested in your thoughts.

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Mike, glad to hear you’re enjoying the site! Regarding mussels, my first reaction was “no way”, but upon thinking about it a bit more I thought about my experiences eating moulles frites and the delicious broth they leave behind, and I think they’d make a delicious chowder. You’ll still want to take the steps to remove grit and mussels need to be “debearded”, but otherwise you should end up with a tasty mussel chowder. If you try it, let us know how it goes!

      • Mike Place

        Your initial shock didn’t surprise me!

        Thanks for your advise. I will report back with my results.

        • K. Martin

          Hi Mike – I’m an American in Spain. While we have clams, I love the cockles!! I’m going to make this using cockles instead of clams.

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  • Amy Ashburn-Forest

    I’m so glad I found this site! I usually use (sorry) canned clams for chowder but they had just gotten fresh off the boat chowder clams at my seafood market in NJ. I HAD to buy them (especially since they are huge and were $7 for 25). Since I usually eat roasted or steamed clams, I needed to see the preparation for using fresh clams in chowder. Thanks so much. Can’t wait to have yummy chowder for dinner tomorrow night!

  • Monica Sanchez

    It’s a blizzard and I got off work early, turned in my latest draft of my dissertation and no work tomorrow…I making clam chowda!!! Thank you for the comprehensive and clear walk-through of how to deal with live clams (mini existential crisis knowing they are alive eeek). A little bit terrified of making it with fresh clams but I know that this is going to reediculously good! Off to create!

  • Kathleen

    Is there a way to buy fresh clams in the market at the fish counter that aren’t in shells? I’ve seen them. How many pounds would I buy for this recipe?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Kathleen, I would would not recommend it. Shellfish spoil much faster than other seafood, which is why they’re usually sold live in their shells. The other problem with pre-shucked clams is that you lose a lot of the juice contained in the clams when they’re shucked (see the photo in step 4). This is what gives the soup it’s flavor and without them the soup will be bland.

  • digengen

    Something that I dislike in clam chowder is finding the sand in it, (fresh clams could have it in their shell). I found a way to get them clean. After you add the salt to the clams add some corn meal too, for some reason the clams do not like it and they spit it out of the shells together with the sand that is inside, leaving them very clean.


I'm Marc, and I want to teach you some basic techniques and give you the confidence and inspiration so that you can cook without recipes too!

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