Learn How to Make the Perfect Clam Chowder Just in Time for Summer
Chowder has been around for centuries; some say it was first made by fishermen who combined seafood with ingredients like potatoes and salt pork that would last for months at sea. The secrets to incredible clam chowder are tender seafood and silky broth; the rest is a matter of preference. Whether you keep it classic with cream and thyme, or swap in tomatoes and oregano, our sterling technique will net you summertime in a spoon.
Preparing the Chowder
The first step in making a delicious chowder focuses on the key ingredient: clams. Steam four pounds of clams with water in a large saucepan, removing them as soon as they open to prevent the meat from overcooking. Once the clams have finished cooking, separate the meat from the shells and strain the liquid. Next, sauté pancetta, onion, thyme, and a bay leaf in melted butter until the meat is browned and the onion is translucent. Add dry white wine and flour, followed by diced potatoes and the reserved broth until the potato is tender. Finish with heavy cream and clams, season with salt and pepper, and serve with crackers.
Our top choice for toppers? "Vermont Country Store common crackers ($14.95, vermontcountrystore.com)," says deputy food editor Greg Lofts. "They keep some crunch but also absorb the velvety chowder—and you can split them to use as scoops."
Make It a Manhattan
This tomato-based version is just as delicious as the classic cream chowder. And you can make it with just a few simple swaps. Add chopped celery and oregano to the sautéed onion and aromatics, and use a can of whole peeled tomatoes with the clam broth, which creates the signature red base for Manhattan clam chowder.
A Dip in the Sea
Many chowder recipes call for cleaning clams in water with a few spoonfuls of cornmeal, but our food director, Sarah Carey, submerges them in a large bowl of cold water with two tablespoons of fine sea salt, such as La Baleine ($4.69, walmart.com). The small grains dissolve quickly and mimic the clams' natural environment, which encourages them to filter out sand on their own. Once the clams are cleaned completely, refrigerate them for three hours, then rinse with cold water and you're ready to cook.
Meet the Mollusks
Chowder clams are the classic choice, since their large size—up to five inches across—yields the most broth. The caveat: They can turn dense and rubbery as they simmer. Sarah likes these smaller varieties; any one of them brings deep brininess to the table. Cherrystone clams, which are about three inches wide and very tender, infuse the soup with seafood flavor. Top neck clams are also tasty raw or grilled and served with a dollop of herb butter inside. And you've likely seen littleneck clams glistening on the half-shell in a seafood platter. At just over an inch across, they have the softest bite of the bunch, but create the least juice, so you may need to include some additional store-bought juice when making the chowder.