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
    I can see how some would want this thicker but I loved the consistency. It was light and easy to eat but still really creamy and rich. It's well balanced! We all enjoyed it, thanks for the recipe

    1. I agree, I love how light the broth is while still tasting rich. It's a personal preference, but glad you're on the same page. Thanks for the review!

  2. 5 stars
    Excellent recipe! Made this two nights ago, served with sourdough garlic bread, and everyone loved it! Possibly the only thing I would do differently is allow mixture to reduce more before adding in the cream and/or add the flour slurry to thicken. I will definitely be making this chowder again!

  3. 5 stars
    Great recipe. I can confirm that if you do go the canned clam route you will need to add enough salt to reach the flavor you’d like. I also added some extra potato, garlic, and carrot to the mix to add some extra heartiness to the soup! Picked up a nice crispy baguette to go with the soup. Definitely recommend you all try this!! I might add extra clams next time!

    1. SO glad you enjoyed the recipe and thank you for your tip about using canned clams! The saltiness of canned clams and bottled clam juice can vary as well so it's always good to taste before adding any salt. Once it's too salty there's not much you can do! 🙂

  4. 5 stars
    Was a big hit with the family last night. Followed recipe, but next time will add 1 cup less water, as we like it thick and creamy and less celery. Great flavor!

  5. 5 stars
    This was a wonderful recipe. The only thing I did different is that I cubed red and petite Yukon potatoes. I boiled them in salted water for 10 minutes and drained them immediately, tossed them with olive oil and large sprigs of rosemary, thyme and crack pepper and roasted the potatoes for 15 minutes in a 300° oven. This just added a different dimension to the potatoes which my family really enjoyed. I will make it this way always!

  6. 5 stars
    Loved it. I’ve made a lot of different chowder recipes. This was the best. Thank you! It’s my new go-to chowder recipe.

  7. 5 stars
    This was great. I added a little paprika and used a cornstarch slurry to thicken instead of flour(just personal preference...nothing wrong with using flour). I also omitted the bacon since we were making it for lent and just used stored bacon fat instead. I'm sure with the bacon it's even better. 10/10 would make again 🙂

  8. 5 stars
    Okay, please don't make fun of me or blacklist me! Here goes: I used Campbell's chunky New England clam chowder as a BASE. I followed the recipe by cooking the bacon, and saute'ing chopped celery and onions. Added the garlic and flour per the recipe, white wine added as the flour started thickening, and the drained clam juice from a can of baby clams, and drained juice from a can of chopped clams. Added about 1/4 teaspoon of dried thyme and a small bay leaf. Chopped and added the bacon, and added 3 cans of Campbell's clam chowder. Stirred over medium heat, tasted & added some sea salt and a bit of heavy cream to get the consistency I was after. Added the baby clams and the chopped clams. Served with a mixed greens salad and French bread. Actually it was pretty yummy, and I will do it again. Can I still come back? 🙂

    1. Of course you're always welcome here, even if you use a can of soup to doctor up the recipe. 😉 Thank you for sharing your experience - you may have just inspired someone else to do the same! I'm glad it worked out for you and you enjoyed the chowder.

  9. 5 stars
    The recipe is beyond delicious. A perfect blend of ingredients cooked to absolute perfection. I used the parsley, canned minced clams, red skin-on potatoes and we are totally satisfied.
    But there is frustration. If anyone can wash celery & finely chop 6 stems, then finely chop two small or one large onion, measure out ⅓ cup of flour, mince two cloves of garlic, open 4 cans of minced clams, drain and measure clam juice, chop fresh parsley and dice two pounds of potatoes in just ten minutes, it's just not true. Take your time, get everything right, adjust your recipe to your own taste and plan on 90 minutes.
    Note that my sourdough bread was done crispy in the oven the exact moment my soup was ready to serve. I'm a stickler on time.

    1. Hey Jim - I appreciate your comment. I agree with you about the prep time and have adjusted it to 30 minutes, which believe is a reasonable time to accomplish the work. Prep time is subjective, so it can be difficult to calculate, but I'm always happy to take this kind of feedback and make adjustments where needed. Thanks for your input and I'm glad you enjoyed the soup!

  10. 5 stars
    Great recipe everyone loved it. One question, the recipe calls for 6oz of bacon. Is that a precooked or cooked amount of bacon?
    Thanks
    Tom

    1. 5 stars
      Easy to make and delicious..I used the heavy cream which was so very creamy and just the right thickness . I cooked a little extra bacon for my family loves bacon for garnish, chopped fine. Thank you for sharing your recipe 😋❣️

  11. 5 stars
    Hey, Coley. I will be attempting this recipe tomorrow night for a recovery house on L.I.. There are 16 of us living in the house so I hope I adjust the for the serving size correctly. All of us are from different parts of the country and have different pallets. Will let you know how it comes out

    1. Hey Dennis - I love that you're making this for your recovery house! Homemade food is so nourishing for the soul. I hope it turns out great! Let me know if you have any questions or run into any issues. 🙂

      1. 5 stars
        Thanks Coley, this was a hit with all the guys. We share cooking responsibilities every night and are always looking for ideas. We have huge pantry, freezer and cooking space with access to all ingredients. Would you be able to help us out with more recipes? We will be sure to post comments on our cooking journey. Thanks L.I. recovery house

        1. I'm so glad to hear the recipe was a hit! I would be more than happy to help with more recipes. Feel free to peruse my website and reach out with any questions!

  12. 5 stars
    I just made this and it's delicious! I made the gluten free version. I would highly recommend this. The bacon grease and heavy whipping cream really make this the best I've had. It tastes reminds me of the clam chowder I've had in the Hamptons. Thank you for sharing this wonderful recipe

  13. 5 stars
    Made this last night using canned clams. It was delicious! The broth was so flavorful and creamy. I halved the recipe but still used 3 cans of clams. Next time I’ll probably use 4 cans. Just so good! Thanks!

  14. 5 stars
    I just made this following your steps with canned clams and dry spices. Came out great I will be making this for our next Boy Scout outing.

  15. 5 stars
    The best clam chowder recipe I've found!! Delicious! We eat lots of fresh steamers, so most of the time we use leftover steamers (unchopped) for our clam chowder. But will also use this recipe for other types of clams, including canned ones. Also, thick chowder is good--but I like this consistency much better. Well done Coley Cooks!!