The Best Classic New England Creamy Clam Chowder

This classic, Creamy New England Clam Chowder recipe is even better than what you'll find at the best seafood restaurant. Unlike Manhattan Clam Chowder, it’s creamy and filled with bacon, potatoes and tender clams. The flavor is unbeatable!

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A bowl of New England clam chowder with a hand dipping bread.

Clam chowder is an American classic. The popular versions are named after places in the United States - There's Manhattan chowder, which has a red tomato broth, and its creamy cousin New England chowder, which is my favorite.

There's even a lesser known Rhode Island clam chowder, with a simple clear broth, and the even more elusive New Jersey clam chowder with a creamy tomato base, sort of a combination of New England and Manhattan.

I LOVE clams. They have always been a big part of my life. When I was a baby, my dad worked on clam boats and there was never a shortage of clams at family dinners. Whether they were tossed with pasta like in this classic linguine alla vongole recipe, part of a seafood stew like cioppino, or baked with a garlicky, crunchy topping like in this family favorite recipe for clams oreganata, they were always devoured.

My mom's side of the family is from Gloucester, an iconic New England seaside town on Cape Anne in Massachusetts, and this clam chowder is a family recipe that's near and dear to my heart.

This is a 5 star restaurant-worthy clam chowder, made in the traditional New England style with tender clams and a creamy broth that’s rich and savory thanks to a little bit of bacon fat. Salt pork is more traditional, but it can be tough to find and I like the smokiness of bacon better.

This soup has simple ingredients, but great flavor, and makes the ultimate comfort food, perfect for a cold night.

This authentic clam chowder is a hearty soup and a favorite for our entire family during soup season, as well as for many of the readers here at Coley Cooks– just check the comments! This is the best clam chowder recipe you will find - and bonus - it tastes even better the next day.

Love creamy seafood soups? Try my mom's simple New England Fish Chowder recipe or this lobster chowder with corn and bacon. Wanna get a little fancy? Check out my authentic, restaurant style Lobster Bisque recipe!

Why This Recipe Works

  • Made the traditional way with smoky bacon, fresh thyme and tender potatoes. 
  • Can use fresh or canned clams.
  • Done in under 90 minutes.
All of the ingredients needed for clam chowder.
Ingredient Notes

Clams - Fresh clams are best if you can get them. Because they will be chopped into small pieces, you can use the large chowder clams, cherrystones, top necks, middle necks or little neck clams. If you can't get fresh clams, you can use canned chopped clams instead. You'll need about 6 lbs of whole fresh clams to get 1 ½ cups of meat or three 6.5-ounce cans.

Clam juice - Use the leftover clam broth from steaming fresh clams or bottled clam juice if working with canned clams, plus the juice from the cans.

Bacon - Salt pork is the more traditional pork fat used in an authentic New England clam chowder recipe, but bacon is easier to find in grocery stores and I actually like it better. The bacon drippings add flavor and body to the stock, which gives it incredible depth and complexity, while the cooked bacon makes an excellent crunchy garnish.

Flour - Use all purpose flour. If making a gluten-free clam chowder, use a gluten-free 1:1 replacement. For an extra creamy soup, you can thicken it further wither either a flour or cornstarch slurry. 

Potatoes - I like red potatoes, but you can also use russet potatoes or Yukon gold potatoes. Peeled or unpeeled - whatever your preference.

Heavy cream - Heavy whipping cream is what makes a creamy New England clam chowder. Don't substitute for a lighter cream or whole milk - it makes a difference.

Herbs - Fresh thyme, fresh parsley and bay leaves. You can substitute dried, but fresh is best.

*Find the full ingredient list in the recipe card below!

Helpful Equipment

Large stock pot  or Dutch oven - for the soup.

Slotted spoon or Tongs - for cooking the clams.

Ladle - For serving.

Close up of a bowl of 5 star New England clam chowder with a spoon.

How to make clam chowder: Step by step instructions

  1. Add the bacon to a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and cook for about 10 minutes or until done and crispy. 
  2. Transfer the bacon to a plate with a slotted spoon and discard most of the fat, leaving about 1 tablespoon in the pot.  Add the chopped onions and celery and cook for 8 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Stir in the flour for an additional minute. 
  3. Add the clam juice, water, thyme, bay leaf, and potatoes. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer. Season with black pepper, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. 
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in clams, heavy cream, and chives or parsley. Discard bay leaves and thyme sprig (if desired). Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

How to Prepare Fresh Clams to Make Clam Chowder

  1. If using fresh cherrystone or littleneck clams for clam chowder, first make sure to scrub them very well to remove as much sand as possible. 
  2. Next, steam them in water or a mixture of water and a little white wine. Add about 2 cups of liquid to a large pot and bring it up to a boil, then add the clams and cover. After about 5 minutes, carefully remove the lid and use a pair of tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer any open clams to a bowl so they don't overcook. 
Fresh clams cooking in a stainless steel pot.
  1. Cover for another minute or two and then remove any more open clams. Some clams may be stubborn and need several more minutes to open - give them some time and they will usually open, but if they don't, throw them away. When the clams have cooled down, remove them from their shells and finely chop.
  2. Pour the remaining clam juice through a fine mesh strainer to remove any bits of sand or broken shell, then reserve. You will need 4 cups of clam juice. If there isn't enough, supplement with a bottle of clam juice or water.

Tips for Success

  • Chop the clams up very finely. If too large of chunks are left, they can become rubbery as they continue to cook in the broth. 
  • If you don’t have fresh clams, don’t worry! I really do love this recipe with canned clams and clam juice- it’s much easier and still has really good flavor.
  • If you prefer a thicker soup, just follow the directions below and use a flour slurry to thicken it to your liking. 
  • Give it a taste before adding any salt. It will likely need some, but depending on the saltiness of your clams, it may not need any. 
A spoon full of clam chowder over a bowl.

What to Serve with Clam Chowder

You can make a full meal out this hearty soup by serving one of these along with it!

A bowl of New England clam chowder with a hunk of bread and a spoon.

FAQS About The Best New England Clam Chowder

What types of clams are best for chowder?

Quahog clams ideal for making clam chowder. Depending on their size, they can be called different names, such as cherrystone or littleneck clams. If you can’t get fresh clams, canned clams and clam juice work just as well!

What makes clams chewy in clam chowder?

Overcooking clams makes them chewy. To avoid this, add already-cooked clams at the end after you’ve lowered or turned off the heat. Finely mincing them will also help reduce the chewiness.

How to store fresh clams?

Clams can keep in the refrigerator for several days (sometimes up to a week) if you store them properly. Store them in a colander or perforated bowl set over top of another bowl in the refrigerator with ice over top. Do not cover. Drain the water out of the bowl and replace the ice every day for optimal results. If any clams are open, give them a firm tap - if they close, they are still alive, but if not, it means they are dead. Discard any dead clams before cooking.

How to thicken clam chowder? 

I prefer my clam chowder creamy but not stick-to-your-spoon thick. but it's easy to thicken it up if you wish.
If you prefer a thicker chowder, it only takes one extra step. Towards the end of cooking, add 2 tablespoons of flour into a small bowl and then add 2-3 tablespoons of hot liquid from the pot to the flour. Whisk together, then pour into the soup and stir, then boil for an additional 2-5 minutes until the soup has thickened.  

How to Store and reheat Leftovers? 

This soup makes great leftovers, as the flavors really meld together as it sits. To store, cool completely, then pour into an airtight container and keep in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. Since this soup has flour and plenty of heavy cream, I don’t recommend freezing because the cream will separate upon thawing. Reheat on the stovetop over medium-low heat or microwave for 60-90 seconds or until heated through, stirring halfway.

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A bowl of New England clam chowder with a hunk of bread and a spoon.
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The Best Classic New England Creamy Clam Chowder

This classic, Creamy New England Clam Chowder recipe is even better than what you'll find at the best seafood restaurant. Unlike Manhattan Clam Chowder, it’s creamy and filled with bacon, potatoes and tender clams. The flavor is unbeatable!
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 6
Calories: 612kcal

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces bacon diced *see note
  • 1 large onion (or 2 small onions) finely chopped
  • 6 celery stalks finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • cup all purpose flour
  • 4 cups clam juice *see note
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 large sprig thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 lbs red skinned potatoes diced
  • freshly cracked black pepper to taste
  • 1 ½ cups finely chopped clams *see note
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • fresh chives or parsley minced
  • salt only as needed
  • crusty bread for serving

Instructions

  1. Add the bacon to a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and cook for about 10 minutes or until done and crispy. 
  2. Transfer the bacon to a plate with a slotted spoon and discard most of the fat, leaving about 1 tablespoon in the pot.  Add the chopped onions and celery and cook for 8 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Stir in the flour for an additional minute. 
  3. Add the clam juice, water, thyme, bay leaf, and potatoes. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer. Season with black pepper, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. 
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in clams, bacon (reserve a little on the side for garnish), heavy cream and chives or parsley. Discard bay leaves and thyme sprig (if desired).Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. 
  5. Ladle into bowls and garnish with reserved bacon and more fresh herbs if desired. Serve hot with crusty bread on the side. 

Notes

  • *Use salt pork, if you can find it, for a more traditional flavor.
  • If using fresh clams, you’ll need about 6 lbs of cherrystones to get 1 ½ cups of meat. Steam them with a little bit of water until they just open, then remove them from the shells and chop very finely. Strain and save the cooking liquid to use as the clam juice in the broth, but taste it first. If it is very salty, go easy on it and use more water instead.
  • **If using canned clams and bottled juice, you’ll need 4 bottles of clam juice and 3 6.5 ounce cans of chopped clams.
  • Chop the clams up very finely. If too large of chunks are left, they can become rubbery as they continue to cook in the broth. 
  • If you prefer a thicker chowder, use a flour slurry to thicken it to your liking. 
  • Give it a taste before adding any salt. It will likely need some, but depending on the saltiness of your clams, it may not need any. 

Nutrition

Calories: 612kcal | Carbohydrates: 52g | Protein: 12g | Fat: 41g | Saturated Fat: 22g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 12g | Trans Fat: 0.04g | Cholesterol: 111mg | Sodium: 820mg | Potassium: 1013mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 10g | Vitamin A: 1475IU | Vitamin C: 23mg | Calcium: 97mg | Iron: 2mg

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82 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Absolutely the most flavorful and authentic clam chowder…I am. MA resident born and bred…nothing better..,thank you for this wonderful recipe ❤️❤️❤️

  2. 5 stars
    My husband told me I outdid myself with this recipe! He REALLY liked it!!!!! The flavors were excellent and perfect level of saltiness. My older son had three bowls so I know this was a winner! Even my picky 5 year old had some and liked it. Thank you so much for this recipe! It’s my go to for clam chowder from now on!

  3. 5 stars
    I have not tried this recipe yet. I miss clam chowder as `i am an American living in Italy and often, the ingredients asked for in many US recipes are not to be found here as most veggies (and fruits) are seasonal and not found out of season. IE....red/nieuw potatoes will not be found, now, but might have in the summer, until end of September so would have to sub normal, everyday potatoes. Clams, oddly, in Italy are not plentiful, especially if you're not on the coast, and even then the best fish and seafood go to the restaurants before they get to us, the people. Clam juice, which `i know could be gotten in any supermarket, I hav never seen, here. I'd have to buy frozen clams and hope that when thawed, the liquid would be enough for the recipe...or buy double the clams to get to what the recipe calls for but have a lot more clams that what is called for. Now that winter is approaching I want to try a clam chowder and my husband, who is from Naples, a city on the sea, would love it. Is the recipe concrete or can I change things as need be? Please?

    1. The recipe can definitely be adapted to suit whatever ingredients you can get! I think frozen clams or canned clams can absolutely work. If you're able to purchase or make your own fish stock, that would work great in place of the clam juice. You can also use an Italian cured meat like pancetta, Guanciale or even prosciutto in place of the bacon. And use whatever potato you can get. A waxy variety is best but regular potatoes still work. This is a humble, rustic soup. I think it will taste great as long as you make it with love!

      1. 5 stars
        Wonderful chowder!! Clam Chowder holds a special place in our family as this was something my mom used to make for the holidays before she passed. This recipe is the closest I've found.
        Quick question; I know it says 6-8 servings, however, what is the specific measurement for that serving? I am tracking my food/ingredients for health reasons and so need to know please. Thank you for this amazing recipe!

        1. I'm so glad you loved the chowder and that I was able to help you recreate a special meal your mom used to make. <3 I lost my mom too and making her old recipes is one of my favorite ways to remember her. Unfortunately I can only give an estimated serving size, which is about 2 cups. Hope that helps!

  4. 5 stars
    This looks amazing! Just a quick question, could I sub the water for say chicken stock? Or do you think too salty with the clam juice? I'm planning to use fresh clams. Thank you!

    1. Thanks! You could certainly substitute chicken stock, although it will change the flavor a bit. If you choose to use chicken stock, definitely use low sodium or unsalted broth so you can control the final salt content. That said, this recipe really doesn't need any additional flavor - the clams, bacon, veggies and herbs provide a robust foundation! Hope you try it - if you use chicken stock, please report back and let me know how it was!

  5. 5 stars
    I have come across a lot of Clam Chowder Recipes and this one by far is the best ever!!! If you’re undecided about this one; just make it and you’re going to love it!!! I might add I’m an extremely picky eater. My husband would attest to it if he could.
    Thank you Coley Cooks for sharing this recipe!!!
    Cynthia Capp

  6. 5 stars
    Nummy! Thank you for sharing this recipe. Made to recipe except I used yellow Finn potatoes from my garden and added one extra can of minced Snows clams. Topped with chives and a dash of smoked paprika. I searched for a recipe (went down many blog rabbit holes) to make it for my dear nephew- he is almost 21, with hollow legs:) I think he had three hearty bowls. I will definitely keep this recipe. 🙂 best from PDX, OR.

  7. 5 stars
    I was a Chef for 30 years and grew up in the Boston metro area and have made New England Clam Chowder for many years and it's not considered New Clam Chowder if you put celery in it. Celery wasn't in the original recipe when it was first made, the original ingredients were
    Finely Ground Salt Pork, Unsalted Butter, Clam Juice (from fresh steamed clams), Diced Fresh Steamed Clams, Roux (made in the pot from rendered Salt Pork and Melted Butter) and Heavy Cream tempered into the Chowder. Seasoned with salt, pepper and thyme. This is all the ingredients in a proper New England Clam Chowder. I always had multiple compliments on the Chowder. I worked at the original Ritz-Carlton in Boston and made the Chowder there for 2 years.

    1. 5 stars
      Bro, who cares if its 'done the right way' its not a contest of who followed the rules, its what tastes good, people almost always add and take out stuff that suits their taste when cooking at home, thats why the pros like you do it at the restaraunts, but grandmas recipe is always better to most individuals.

  8. 5 stars
    I made it and followed the instructions exactly, with the exception that added a couple of tbsp of vegetable bouillon as well as some cubed carrots as I didn’t have enough potatoes. The bouillons really gave it a nice flavor. That was the best thing I did. And the cream is a must.

  9. 5 stars
    Hubby from Boston said it was perfect. Better than a few other recipes we've tried. This one's a keeper. Thanks

  10. 5 stars
    Awesome recipe. Love that it's lighter and not overly thick but still has so much flavor. Will be making this again

  11. 5 stars
    love this recipe i made for like 80 people and they loved it just want to make it a lil thicker but the flavors are beautiful thank you for posting this.

    1. Thank you for the comment! Yes, some prefer it thicker, so you can always add a little slurry (flour whisked with water) towards the end of cooking to thicken it more to your liking. Please consider leaving a star rating if you can - it's really helpful for future chowder makers!

  12. 5 stars
    I am not of the 'big chunks of everything and make sure your spoon will standup up in it" school. so this looks delightful.