New England Clam Chowder is a true American Classic that’s hardly ever made at home these days.
Clams were abundant in the North East area of the United States and clam chowders and stews could be found cooking on the stoves in many New England households.
But with the advent of canned soups, America stopped making homemade soups and most seafood soups became an extravagance we only got to enjoy on those special occasions when we would dine out.
And the truth is New England Clam Chowder is not difficult to make or time-consuming. You only need a few ingredients you won’t already find in your kitchen.
Clams of course is one of those items. These days most supermarkets carry fresh clams regularly and some even carry frozen clam meat. Both of which make excellent soups.
Although with the frozen clams you’ll also need to buy clam juice.
What Kind of Clams should I buy?
Little Neck clams are most often the type of clams you’ll find in supermarkets. This size clam is generally used in pasta dishes such as clams and spaghetti. And that’s because the larger the clam gets, the tougher and chewier it will be.,
A lot of supermarkets also carry Middle Necks (pictured above), Top Necks or Cherrystone.
- Pasta Necks (or Spaghetti clams) – smaller than Little Necks, they are tender and easy to digest. Their delicate flavor goes well in light sauces, pasta or rice dishes.
- Little Neck – small and tender they are usually steamed open or eaten on the half shell. Also good for pasta dishes.
- Middle Neck – rich, firm-textured meat has a salty and slightly sweet flavor. Great for steaming in a garlic sauce and for soups.
- Top Neck – typically eaten raw on the half shell, grilled open or as a baked clam appetizer such as clams casino or deviled clams.
- Cherrystone – eaten raw or most often used for baked clam appetizers such as clams casino or deviled clams.
- Chowder – the largest and toughest hard clams, usually winding up in chowders.
If you don’t see them ask the seafood person if the larger clams can be ordered.
What Ingredients do I need to make New England Clam Chowder?
Let’s start by gathering the ingredients we need to make New England Clam Chowder. In Chef Speak this is called the Mise en Place which translates into Everything in its Place.
Not only does setting your ingredients up ahead of time speed the cooking process, but it also helps ensure you have everything you need to make the dish.
How do I make New England Clam Chowder?
The first step is steaming the clams you’ll be using for the soup. Add one cup of water to a large pot over medium heat. Add the clams and cover. Steam the clams for 8-10 minutes or until they steam open.
**Don’t let the clams cook longer than it takes to steam open.
Once the clams have steamed open, remove them from the stove and allow to cool until you can safely handle the clams.
When the clams have sufficiently cooled, remove the meat from the shells. Don’t remove the little mussel that holds the clam to the shell, it will be tough and chewy.
**Discard the shells but make sure to save all the juice from the steamed clams.
Chops the clams into small pieces and refrigerate until needed.
In a 4- 6 quart soup pot cook the bacon until almost done. Add the onions, celery and carrots and continue cooking for 5-6 minutes.
Reduce the heat to low and add the flour to the pot to make a roux. This will thicken the soup.
Allow the roux to cook over low heat for 5- 7 minutes, but don’t let the roux get dark or burn.
Heat the stock in a saucepan while the roux is cooking. Add the hot stock to the roux and mix well using a wire whisk.
Add the potatoes and fresh thyme into the pot at this time stirring them into the soup.
Now add the milk and if you’re feeling decadent, the heavy cream. Allow the soup to simmer over low heat for about an hour.
**If the soup gets to thick, add water to pot. I wouldn’t add any more dairy at this point, just water.
Before serving the chowder, add in the chopped clams and simmer for 5 additional minutes to bring the soup back to temperature. Serve with crackers, oyster crackers or fresh crusty bread and enjoy!
*Some folks enjoy hot sauce with their chowder.
Can you freeze New England Clam Chowder?
Yes you can. You may need to add a little water to the soup when reheating.
New England Clam Chowder (also referred to as “Boston-style” clam chowder), is made using milk and cream. This makes it a much thicker chowder than other regional types of clam chowder. The other two styles of clam chowder, Rhode Island Clam Chowder and Manhattan Clam Chowder are both tomato-based broth-style soups.
Originally made in the Maine and Massachusetts area and food historians believe that French or Nova Scotian settlers introduced the soup to the area, thus lending to the name of New England Clam Chowder.
Yes, you can. Canned clams are a great alternative to fresh clams when fresh clams are not readily available. Make sure to buy extra clam juice when purchasing canned clams, to help make the chowder.