Dutch Oven Clam Chowder (New England)
Put those cans back on the shelf, we’re making homemade New England Clam Chowder! Loaded up with bacon, potatoes, onions, milk, and of course clams; this hearty soup is an iconic staple here in Maine and I’m going to show you how to make it authentically! So throw on your muck boots and let’s dive in!
The Best Authentic New England Clam Chowder
As a born and raised Mainer (Mainah!) I can’t, not have New England Clam Chowder on the site. After all, who better to get an authentic, creamy clam chowder recipe from then a New Englander herself?! Loaded with clams, potatoes, onions, and a creamy base you’re sure to find all other recipes fail to compare. So sit back and take a virtual visit with me to the beautiful state of Maine and its colorful, stubborn people.
They say we’re a salty bunch here in Maine, but when everyone you know is related to a lobsterman or fisherman it’s easy to see why. We love our seafood here and I would say its one of the hills Mainers are willing to die on. We make the best lobster rolls, New England clam chowder, whoppie pies, and the older generation will tell you Dunkin’ Donuts is a food group in and of itself.
Why do they call it New England clam chowder (chowdah)?
If you’re going to say it, say it right! We don’t have “er” up here, we have “ah”. New England clam chowder is famous within Maine and Massachusetts. One could say that’s in part because Massachusetts residents just can’t seem to stay out of our state! (said lovingly and jokingly – we all know you pay taxes here in your second homes 😉 )
According to food historians, the clam chowder originated in Nova Scotia, just over the water a bit from Maine, and was brought to New England with early settlers. New England clam chowder is known for its creamy, milk base, loads of potatoes and clams, onions and black pepper. Authentic clam chowder MUST be served with oyster crackers or saltines.
What’s the difference in clam chowders?
There are three types of clam chowders: Rhode Island Chowder, Manhattan Chowder, and New England Chowder. The New England chowder is white and creamy, typically topped with bacon, and much thicker than the others. Rhode Island Chowder has a tomato broth base with no dairy. It’s often served with clam cakes on the side. Manhattan Chowder again has a milk-free broth that instead highlights tomatoes and often incorporates other seafood, making it more of a seafood chowder.
What are the key ingredients in an authentic New England Clam Chowder?
Pork – you can use bacon or a ham hock to add flavor to the chowder while it cooks. Either way, pork and the lard from the pork is a staple ingredient for sautéing the vegetables.
Vegetables – onions and potatoes are a must have in this dish. Over the years some have incorporated celery and even carrots. Though those additions are typically found in more restaurants compared to actual New England homes. Russets, Yukons, or Red potatoes are the go-to Maine grown variety. Yellow onions are the traditional onion.
Milk – milk or heavy cream brings a thick, luscious, iconic texture to the dish.
Clams – canned clams are the standard in these dishes. While you would think the access to the ocean would make fresh clams standard, canning clams was not unheard of back in the day and it just kind of stuck. Besides, the work that goes into shucking clams and oysters means you typically want to enjoy them right on the spot. Being able to purchase clams in the can takes out a bit of the work and allows you to add even more clams to the chowder.
How to make New England Clam Chowder (with video!)
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What makes the chowder thick?
Low broth and a high dairy content make this chowder thick and creamy. Some New Englanders like to use a roux or cornstarch for an added thickness. You can also puree some of the potatoes to make the texture thicker and creamier with out as much dairy.
Why we love clam chowder
Listen, look at the contents of New England clam chowder and you’re sure to find it’s not the healthiest of soups. Sure, I get that. But you also have to remember where this recipe originated and the people it served. New England, and Maine in particular, has always been a poverty state. Ever heard the phrase, “not a pot to piss in?” That phrase originated in Maine and spoke about the lack of finances or belongings Maine families had.
Harsh winters, constantly loosing power, needing to be outside to manually move snow, having large families, and limited income all pointed towards making hearty soups and meals that could keep bellies full and provide a decent amount of calories. Clam chowder would be served with saltines and butter, or oyster crackers, and more recently in bread bowls. This was a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs kind of a meal to bulk up on before heading back into the elements for a long, hard day of fighting winter.
Storing Leftover Clam Chowder
Clam chowder can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for about 3 days. Do to the high amount of dairy, it’s not a good soup for freezing. The texture from the dairy and the potatoes do not hold up as well as fresh. That being said, if you want to, you can freeze it for a few months in a freezer safe container. Reheat at a simmer on the stovetop, woodstove, or the microwave. Next day clam chowder is possibly better than the first day since the flavors have a chance to really develop. Just keep the bacon bits to the side for topping, otherwise they’ll become rubbery.
More Soup Season Favorites!
- Zuppa Toscana
- Guinness Beef Stew
- Chicken Gnocchi Soup
- Butternut Squash & Apple Soup
- Lobster Bisque
- Turkey Butternut Squash Chili
New England Clam Chowder Recipe
- 5 quart dutch oven
- Cutting board
- wooden spoon
- 6 strips bacon
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 1 yellow onion large, diced medium
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2-1/2 pounds potatoes yukon, white, or red, diced into 1 inch cubes
- 8 ounces clam juice plus water if needed
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 26 ounces canned sea clams chopped, juice reserved
- 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
- 1 Tablespoon fresh thyme
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- oyster crackers or saltines
- To a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium heat, add bacon strips, cut into 1 inch portions. Cook bacon fully and remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain of excess grease. Remove all but 2 Tablespoons of bacon fat from the Dutch oven.
- Add the butter to the Dutch oven and melt. Add the diced onion and saute for about 5 minutes until tender and becoming translucent.
- Dust in the flour and stir for a minute to cook and thicken. Add the potatoes and toss.
- Pour in the clam juice from the bottle as well as the reserved clam juice from the cans. If more liquid is needed to cover the potatoes, add water or chicken stock.
- Cover and boil about 15 minutes until potatoes are tender. Stir every few minutes to keep the bottom from burning and to check the potatoes for even cooking.
- When potatoes are tender, reduce to a simmer. Add the remaining ingredients, except the oyster crackers. Stir over a simmer for about 5 minutes so all the contents can warm.
- Serve topped with crumbled bacon, fresh herbs, and oyster crackers.