Best Ever New England Clam Chowder

I am going to proudly say that this is, by far, hands down, the best ever New England Clam Chowder. Ever.

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I have been a lifelong New England clam chowder connoisseur. It is my jam. It is pure comfort in a bowl. Its the one thing I crave when its cold and dreary outside in the winter. Shoot, I crave it year round.

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I asked a question on my Facebook page the other day of ” Clam Chowder: yes or no? And the red or the white?”. White AKA New England clam chowder won by a landslide. I got a few “ew, no, yuk, barf” and a few for the red (Manhattan) AND someone mentioned Rhode Island clam chowder. I had never heard of it before. So I googled. Its pretty much like the New England clam chowder but without the cream or milk, just a clear broth, mostly just the clam juice or a fish stock. Sounds good to me!

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I think I have had Manhattan clam chowder once. I much prefer Cioppino for a “red” or tomato based broth seafood stew. My heart has always belonged to the white chowdah.  I grew up in Southern California where there are a plethora of amazing seafood restaurants all along the entire coast. I have had my share of chowders from San Diego to San Francisco. My favorite, absolute favorite, resides at the best seafood restaurant ever: Brophy Bros. in Santa Barbara. My hometown.

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Brophy’s is in the Santa Barbara harbor. Its been there forever. A pure local favorite. Its not a huge restaurant and often there is a wait for a seat on the narrow balcony, but the wait is worth it. You overlook the harbor, watch urchin boats unload their catch of the day on the dock, and smell the fresh sea air. The view is worth the wait. Their New England clam chowder there is worth the wait.

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They serve the chowder with the best, sour, crusty bread ever. I could eat my bodyweight in bread and chowder at Brophy’s. I think I have before. Another awesome place for clam chowder is Jake’s in Portland, Or. We lived there for 6 years in the drearly, cold, yucky weather. An occasional trip to Jake’s made it a little more bearable. Jake’s chowder was a little thicker than Brophy’s. Both amazingly good, in their own way.

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There was also a seafood restaurant I worked at in Santa Barbara that served up a mean chowder. I was a bartender, day bar manager, weekend manager and sometimes prep chef when the prep chef was out surfing and we couldn’t get a hold of him to come in to do his job. So often times I got to make the chowder early weekend mornings before we opened up. Sounds like I did a ton of stuff there, but it was a part time job during college. I had fun, the best part was learning how they made their chowder. Inspired by all those three chowders, I started working on my own chowder recipe.

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I actually can’t tell you how many years I have been making my own clam chowder recipe. It was before we moved to Oregon, so Jake’s chowder came as a later on inspiration. I have made chowder from using a gazillion fresh clams to make my own clam stock to these GIANT 3lb 3 ounce cans of fresh sea clams from Costco. When I realized that the giant cans had almost enough clam juice that I didn’t have to make my own stock I have been using those ever since. Until one trip to the Oregon Coast that has forever changed my mind about the types of clams being used. That meal is the only exception to this recipe I am posting today about being the best ever. That truly was the best ever. Why? Because my husband and some friends went out crabbing and clam digging and brought me back the hugest pile of cockles I had ever seen. Nothing beats freshly caught seafood.  There was an old Alaskan homestead cookbook at our friend’s beach house that had a salmon chowder recipe in it that I based that chowder recipe that night off. The guys shucked and rinsed the cockles, I prepped the rest of the ingredients. I found the biggest stock pot I could and went to work. People helped themselves to seconds and thirds. Everyone said it was the best ever.

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The reason I am sharing this recipe instead of the one I made that one day on the Oregon coast? Because not everyone has access to giant freshly caught cockles or sea clams. Aside from that, I also can’t remember 100% that exact recipe. I change it slightly every time. I have made it with bacon, I have made it without. With bacon is always better. I have made it with flour as the thickening agent, I much prefer not using flour but pureeing some of the soup with the potatoes to thicken it up. Classic clam chowder uses all heavy cream. I find that to be, well, heavy. I use low fat milk and half and half. Once in a while I use heavy cream. Depends on my mood. Always serve with good crusty bread to dip in the chowder and wash it down with a good glass of wine. I give you now, my BEST ever New England Clam Chowder recipe :

5.0 from 4 reviews
Best Ever New England Clam Chowder
Recipe type: Soup, Seafood
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8-10
Best Ever New England Clam Chowder Really no more words. This is the best ever
  • 4 slices thick bacon, diced
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 2 medium-large leeks, white and light green part only, sliced in half lengthwise, rinsed and then diced (3 cups)
  • 1 medium shallot, peeled and minced (4 Tbsp.)
  • 1 cup sweet onion, diced
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and diced (1 cup)
  • 4 stalks celery, diced (1 cup)
  • 4 large cloves garlic, peeled minced
  • ⅔ C dry white wine
  • 1 and ¼ Cups low fat milk (I use Straus Organic)
  • 3 large bay leaves
  • 5-6 fresh Thyme sprigs
  • 2 lbs red skinned potatoes, chopped into 1” pieces
  • 6 Cups clam juice (reserved liquid from the canned clams plus 2-3 8oz bottles of clam juice to equal 6 cups total)
  • 1 cup half and half (I use Straus Organic)
  • 4 lbs chopped canned clams (I used one 3.3 lbs can Sea Watch Chopped Sea Clams and 16 ounce container of chopped sea clams from Whole Foods)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • Garnish:
  • 4 Tbsp. Flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
  • Reserved bacon pieces
  • Steamed manila clams*
  1. If using canned clams, drain the clams with a strainer over a bowl. Measure the liquid and add bottled clam juice to reach cups.
  2. In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, sauté the bacon until crispy and the fat is rendered out. Remove the bacon to drain on paper towels and strain the bacon fat into a measuring cup. Return the pot to the heat and add back in 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat and the tablespoon of butter.
  3. Add in the leeks, shallot, onion, carrots and celery. Saute until the leeks start to caramelize, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Add in the garlic and stir another minute. Add in the white wine and stir until its absorbed. Add in the milk and potatoes and stir. Add in the bay leaves, fresh thyme and clam juice. Bring to a boil, cover the pot, lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Transfer 2-3 cups of the chowder to a blender, making sure there are plenty of potatoes in the mixture, and blend until smooth and thick. Transfer back to the pot and stir well. Add in the chopped clams and the half and half. Cover and keep on low for another 30 minutes. Taste the chowder and season with sea salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and garnish with bacon, parsley and steamed clams if desired. Serve hot with crusty bread, wine and hot sauce.
If you make steamed clams for garnish - soak one pound of manilla clams in salt water ( 1 Tbsp salt per quart of cold water) and soak through 2-3 changes of salt water to rinse out as much grit and sand as you can. Set a pan of water over medium heat and set a steamer basket over the water. Place the clams in the basket and bring the water to a boil and cover with a lid. Steam for 5-8 minutes. Throw away any clams that didn't open and keep the clams warm until ready to serve.

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Oh and those adorable aqua chowder bowls in my pics? Well I got them at Cost Plus World Market of course!!! If you are going to have a bowl of killer clam chowder you have to eat it out of awesome bowls, right?? I still can’t believe I hadn’t blogged this recipe before. I was telling my husband today that maybe I was waiting for the right bowls to serve it in, for my photography skills to get good enough to show how amazing this chowder is or I don’t know what exactly. But it is about time I shared it.

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  1. I love Clam Chowder and cannot wait to try yours.

  2. Your college restaurant days sound like my current days! LOL And we are famous for our Clam Chowder, make it from scratch everyday. I wish I liked clams, I eat it and try and avoid the clams! Love that you made it from home. We use heavy cream but no bacon- I bet bacon only makes it better!!
    Elizabeth @ Confessions of a Baking Queen recently posted…Caramel Apple CrispMy Profile

  3. Confession: I grew up in Vancouver, Canada…the home of amazing seafood, and I have NEVER tried clam chowder! How-ev-er, I think yours looks like the perfect way to start. Girl, that is one (amazing beautiful!) bowl of comfort and creaminess if I ever saw one.
    I haven’t been to World Market, but these bowls tell me that needs to change.
    Love this!

  4. This looks like something I could really use on this cold wintery day! Love it.
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  5. This looks so comforting and delicious!
    Tasha @ ThatsSoYummy recently posted…Monkey Bread MuffinsMy Profile

  6. New England Clam Chowder is my most favorite. I look forward to it every single Summer! Im from Maine and everywhere you go on the coast is bound to have fresh clam chowder, and I don’t think Ive ever NOT ordered it. Just something about it..I can’t get enough! Yours looks beautiful!! And it sounds absolutely phenomenal! Saving this to make in the soon when Im dearly missing my NE Summers!
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  7. This looks fabulous!! I can’t wait to try it!! I have a question. In your instructions, #1, when you add the bottled clam juice to the liquid from the clams, how many cups should you have? Thanks!!

  8. New England Clam Chowder is the best. I made it once and it was pretty good. Your recipe looks delicious. i want to try.
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  9. Oh man, I could really go for a bowl of real, and real-good, clam chowder. The canned stuff just doesn’t even compare (and should be illegal, really :)). This looks scrumptious!
    Stephanie @ Girl Versus Dough recently posted…whole wheat clementine yogurt cakeMy Profile

  10. I had no idea you were from Santa Barbara – one of my most favorite places to visit . some day I will live by the ocean. as for that chowder – making it asap
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  11. HI Shanna, I just discovered your blog from the NoshOnIt tweet today. They mention both our blogs today. I’m so glad to find you and can’t wait to explore Pineapple and Coconut! I been wanting a good Clam Chowder recipe and yours looks fantastic! Beautiful photography as well.

  12. Well obviously being from NY I’m a Manhattan Clam Chowder girl and I do like Rhode Island too. It’s got to be a really good New England chowder for me to go for it. I just find it so heavy. However, yours looks amazing and I love that you puree the potatoes to thicken the soup instead of adding more cream. Also the claim to other stuff ratio needs to be high.
    Susan recently posted…Blood Orange Rosemary Olive Oil Bread #LeftoversClubMy Profile

  13. Yum, comfort and cozy in a bowl! Love that you had the clams open in the pictures, so cute and artsy! You definitely are the clam chowder connoisseur so when you say its the best I will take your word for it, can’t wait to try this one Shanna! Pinning!

  14. Holy cow, Shanna… this is the most gorgeous soup I have EVER seen. Love this photos and your beautiful recipe! So so beautiful.
    Kristen recently posted…The Happiness Report #26My Profile

  15. I didn’t know you were from Santa Barbara. I used to live there in the 1980s! Yes Brophy… GREG

  16. I can’t get over how beautiful your clam chowder is, especially since I was attempting to photograph my own bowl last weekend haha Very well done! I use fresh clams and always buy twice as much as I need because I tend to eat the clams before they make it to the soup haha
    Carla recently posted…Peanut Butter Banana Elvis BarkMy Profile

  17. I happen to adore clam chowder, and your version looks amazing. Your stunning photos have me craving a bowl. I seriously want to pick up one of those spoons and dig right on in. Pinning!

  18. Is it suppose to be 1/4 cups milk?

  19. This looks so good I was literally drooling the entire time!
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  20. This is one stunning looking soup! Not only does it sound incredible, but it looks it too! Must try this soon!
    Tieghan recently posted…Quick + Easy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Peanut Butter Fudge Parfaits.My Profile

  21. John Bailey says:

    First time reader here.
    A beautiful blog about clam chowder.
    If you have not done so, in order to round out you education about chowder, google Minorcan Clam Chowder.
    This is a little known, but wonderful version, hailing from St. Augustine Fl.
    It is a red chowder, but nothing like the New York red. Spicy, using the local Datil peppers.

  22. Shanna you’ve outdone yourself! These photos are amazing, I can’t choose which one to pin!

  23. Ohhh New England Clam Chowder is my jam too!!!!!!

  24. I’m so in love with a good clam chowder – this is STUNNING!!
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  25. This looks seriously amazing! I haven’t had good clam chowder in years. I’m so excited to see that this is gluten-free as well so I’m going to pin and hope to try making it soon! Your photos are gorgeous too!
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  26. GORGEOUS photos!!!
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  27. Yes, I agree with the statement about the images — so crystal clear and beautiful! Tasting with my eyes! Thank you for posting these! Nice job!

  28. This is one of my favorite soups of all time! Love this!

  29. This looks awesome! It’s snowing here today…may be the perfect time to try this recipe!

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