The Ultimate Guide to Making Delicious Clam Chowder From Scratch

There’s nothing quite like a piping hot bowl of creamy, flavorful clam chowder on a chilly day. This classic New England dish is a beloved favorite for many, but have you ever tried making it from scratch? If not, you’re in for a treat! In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the steps to create an absolutely divine clam chowder that will rival even the best seafood restaurants.

What is Clam Chowder?

Before we dive into the recipe, let’s briefly explore what clam chowder is. Clam chowder is a rich, creamy soup that originated in New England. It’s made with clams, potatoes, onions, and a variety of other ingredients, all simmered together in a delectable broth.

There are two main varieties of clam chowder:

  • New England Clam Chowder: This is the creamy, white chowder that most people are familiar with. It’s made with milk or cream, giving it a luscious, velvety texture.

  • Manhattan Clam Chowder: This variety has a tomato-based broth, which gives it a reddish hue and a slightly tangier flavor.

In this guide, we’ll be focusing on the beloved New England-style clam chowder.

Ingredients You’ll Need

Before you start cooking, gather the following ingredients:

  • Clams (fresh or canned)
  • Potatoes (Russet or Yukon Gold work best)
  • Onions
  • Celery
  • Bell peppers (optional)
  • Garlic
  • Butter
  • All-purpose flour
  • Milk or cream
  • Chicken or vegetable broth
  • Bay leaf
  • Seasonings (salt, pepper, thyme, parsley, etc.)
  • Bacon or salt pork (optional)

A Note on Clams

One of the most important ingredients in clam chowder is, of course, the clams! You can use fresh clams or canned clams for this recipe.

  • Fresh Clams: If using fresh clams, you’ll need to clean them thoroughly and steam them until they open. Reserve the clam juice for the chowder broth.

  • Canned Clams: Canned clams are a convenient option and still yield delicious results. Look for chopped clams in their juice, and be sure to reserve the clam juice from the cans.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Now that you have all the ingredients ready, let’s dive into the cooking process!

  1. Cook the Bacon (Optional): If you’re using bacon or salt pork, cook it until crispy in a large pot or Dutch oven. Remove the bacon from the pot, leaving the rendered fat behind.

  2. Sauté the Aromatics: In the same pot, melt the butter in the bacon fat (or use just butter if you’re not using bacon). Add the onions, celery, bell peppers (if using), and garlic. Sauté until the vegetables are soft and fragrant.

  3. Make the Roux: Sprinkle the flour over the sautéed vegetables and stir to create a roux. Cook for a minute or two to remove the raw flour taste.

  4. Add the Liquids: Slowly whisk in the milk or cream and the chicken or vegetable broth. Stir in the reserved clam juice (if using fresh clams) or the liquid from the canned clams.

  5. Simmer the Broth: Add the bay leaf and any other dried herbs or seasonings you’re using. Bring the mixture to a simmer and let it cook for about 10-15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

  6. Add the Potatoes: Peel and dice the potatoes into bite-sized pieces, then add them to the simmering broth. Cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15-20 minutes.

  7. Add the Clams: If using fresh clams, add them to the chowder now. If using canned clams, drain them and add them to the pot. Cook for an additional 5 minutes to heat through.

  8. Adjust Seasonings: Taste the chowder and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.

  9. Garnish and Serve: Remove the bay leaf and discard it. Ladle the hot chowder into bowls and garnish with crumbled bacon (if using), chopped fresh parsley, and a crack of black pepper.

Variations and Substitutions

One of the great things about clam chowder is that it’s easy to customize to your taste preferences. Here are a few ideas:

  • Swap the Veggies: Instead of, or in addition to, celery and bell peppers, you can add carrots, fennel, or corn kernels to the chowder.

  • Use Different Potatoes: While Russet and Yukon Gold potatoes are traditional, you can experiment with red potatoes or even sweet potatoes for a unique twist.

  • Add Seafood: Mix in some cooked shrimp, crab meat, or even lobster for an extra-special seafood chowder.

  • Make it Dairy-Free: If you need to avoid dairy, you can substitute the milk or cream with unsweetened plant-based milk or creamy coconut milk.

  • Spice it Up: For a little kick, add a dash of hot sauce or a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes to the chowder.

Serving Suggestions

Clam chowder is a versatile dish that can be served in many ways. Here are a few ideas:

  • In a Bread Bowl: Serve the chowder in a hollowed-out sourdough bread bowl for a fun and filling presentation.

  • With Oyster Crackers or Saltines: These classic companions are perfect for soaking up the delicious broth.

  • Alongside a Green Salad: A fresh, crisp salad makes a great accompaniment to the rich chowder.

  • With Crusty Bread: Offer warm, crusty bread on the side for dipping into the chowder.

Tips for Perfect Clam Chowder

  • Use Fresh Herbs: While dried herbs work in a pinch, fresh herbs like thyme, parsley, and chives can really elevate the flavor of your chowder.

  • Don’t Overcook the Clams: If using fresh clams, be careful not to overcook them, or they’ll become tough and rubbery.

  • Adjust Consistency: If your chowder is too thick, you can thin it out with a little extra broth or milk. If it’s too thin, you can make a slurry with flour and water or milk to thicken it up.

  • Let it Simmer: Allowing the chowder to simmer for a while before serving helps the flavors meld and develop.

  • Add Cream at the End: For an extra-creamy texture, stir in a splash of heavy cream or half-and-half right before serving.


Making clam chowder from scratch may seem intimidating, but with this comprehensive guide, you’ll be able to create a restaurant-quality bowl of creamy, delicious goodness right in your own kitchen. Whether you’re a seasoned home cook or a beginner, this classic New England dish is sure to become a beloved favorite in your household. So gather your ingredients, roll up your sleeves, and get ready to impress your family and friends with your homemade clam chowder masterpiece!

The Best Clam Chowder Recipe | How to Make Clam Chowder


What is clam chowder soup made of?

This delicious clam chowder is cream-based and calls for the traditional chowder ingredients: onion, celery, potatoes, diced carrots, cream, and clams. A little red wine vinegar is added before serving for extra flavor.

What ingredient does chowder always have?

Customarily, chowder included onion, potatoes, and cream. Nowadays, not all chowders adhere to these guidelines.

What is the best thickener for clam chowder?

We find that using flour to make a roux makes the perfect thickness for clam chowder, but you can also use a slurry of cornstarch and water/broth added along with the clams in the last step.

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