This easy weeknight New England clam chowder recipe is chock full of smoky bacon flavor. Bacon, potatoes, onions, celery, clams, and yellow corn come together in a roux-based creamy soup base to make a delicious lunch or dinner any day of the week. I hope your family enjoys it as much as we do!Jump to Recipe Print Recipe
What is a Chowder?
According to Merriam-Webster, it’s “a soup or stew of seafood (such as clams or fish) usually made with milk or tomatoes, salt pork, onions, and other vegetables (such as potatoes), also : a soup resembling chowder (corn chowder).” So basically, a seafood soup or stew made with a creamy or tomato base and some chunky vegetables. Clam chowders are probably the most common, but I’ve had chowders made from fish, crawfish, and corn as well. Bacon and potato seem to be a common denominator between all of them.
Types of Clam Chowders
Clam chowder originated in France, but came to New England with the first European settlers on the American continents. The two most common types of clam chowder in the US are New England (cream-based) and Manhattan (tomato-based). New England clam chowder tends to be thicker and the main vegetables are potato and onion, which Manhattan clam chowder is thinner and broth. It still contains potatoes and bacon (so it qualifies as a chowder), but it also often has other vegetables such as bell peppers and carrots. There are other types as well, such as Rhode Island clam chowder (broth-based – no tomato or cream), and San Francisco clam chowder (served in a hollowed out bread bowl). I’ve always been partial to New England style clam chowder with plenty of bacon myself, and that’s the recipe you’ll see below.
Clams for Clam Chowder
I would love to have the chance to experiment with fresh clams for clam chowder, but I live in Wisconsin. We have one local grocery store that carries fresh clams, but the price would put a pot of chowder at about $50. I just can’t justify that for a weeknight dinner. If you live on a coast and have access to clams at a better price, please give them a try! Kenji Lopez-Alt over at Serious Eats has a great article that discusses the merits of different ingredients for chowder, and he prefers cherrystones and littlenecks to the large Quahogs. He does, however, validate that there is nothing wrong with using canned or frozen clams for chowder if you live in the middle of the US.
How to Make Easy Clam Chowder with Bacon
Start by chunking and par-boiling some potatoes. I like red potatoes for this recipe, because you can leave the skins on, but peeled Yukon golds will work well also. Cook them in a pot of salted boiling water until just tender and not falling apart.
In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed stock pot, start cooking some diced bacon (homemade if you’re curing your own). Fry 8-10 minutes or until it begins to brown and crisp. Add diced onion and celery with a pinch of salt and some cracked black pepper, and cook a few minutes until tender. Add minced garlic and cook for 30-60 seconds. Add flour and stir to make a roux. Stir continuously for a few minutes, until flour is no longer raw but has not begun to brown. You want roughly equal portions of fat and flour – I use 1/2 cup each. The fat from the bacon should be enough, but if the flour is clumping add more fat or butter from your refrigerator. I add seasonings at this point as well – smoked paprika and thyme are my go-tos, but you can use regular paprika if the smoky flavor isn’t your thing.
Slowly add liquid to your roux. You always want to incorporate liquid in about 1/2 cup increments, although I don’t measure unless I’m writing a recipe. I use about 6 cups of total liquid. 2 cups chicken stock, 1 cup bottled clam juice, 2 cups milk, and 1 cup heavy cream (save this for later). Add a little liquid, stir until it’s well-incorporated, and then add a little more.
You can play with those ratios if you don’t have all of the ingredients or are trying to cut calories, but keep some principles in mind. If you leave out the cream, you’ll want to significantly increase the amount of milk in the recipe. It will still be a thinner final product, but you should probably replace all of the chicken stock and cream with milk. I save the heavy cream until the end, and stir it in after I’ve added the clams and seasoned the chowder.
Add the potatoes back into the chowder once the consistency begins to resemble soup. They will thicken the chowder a little, and that’s a good thing. Continue to cook over medium heat until the potatoes are tender enough to melt in your mouth. Add the canned clams and all of their juices at this point, and stir in the corn. Taste and season the chowder. This is when I stir in the heavy cream.
After the cream has been added, be careful not to let the chowder boil. Make sure everything is warmed through, and taste it again for final adjustments. Ladle the soup into large bowls, and top with a little parsley and a sprinkle of smoked paprika. Make sure you have oyster crackers on hand to serve – they’re mandatory for clam chowder. Bread and a salad go wonderfully with clam chowder – try my bacon bread for a real treat! My family also really enjoys it with a bacon grilled cheese. Please pin and share this recipe if you enjoy it, and let me know how it went in the comments section below!
Easy Clam Chowder with Bacon
- 1 1/2 lb red potatoes cut into bite-size cubes
- 1/2 lb bacon diced
- 1 medium onion diced
- 1 large celery stalk diced
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 cup flour
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 cup clam juice
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cans clams with their juice
- 8 oz corn fresh, frozen, or canned
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup parsley diced
- salt and pepper to taste
- Par-boil potatoes. Place in a pot of cold salted water over high heat and bring to a boil. Cook aboiut 10 minutes, or until beginning to become tender. Drain and set aside.
- While potatoes are cooking, place diced bacon into a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed stock pot. Turn heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes, or until bacon starts to brown. Add diced onion and celery. Add a pinch of salt and a few turns of cracked black pepper, along with thyme and smoked paprika. Cook 3-4 minutes, until onions and celery begin to soften. Add minced garlic and stir for 30-60 seconds.
- Add flour to make a roux, stirring continuously, for about 3 minutes. Stir until well-incorporated with no visible lumps. Flour should no longer smell "raw".
- Begin to add liquid, in 1/2 cup increments, stirring each time until well-combined. Add chicken stock first, then clam juice, then milk. Once a soup-like consistency has been reached, add the pre-cooked potatoes. Continue to add liquid until all 5 cups have been incorporated.
- Add canned clams with all of their liquid. Add corn. Stir in, and taste. Adjust seasonings. Add heavy cream. Taste and adjust again if needed.
- Ladle chowder into large bowls, and top with a sprinkling of smoked paprika and parsley. Serve with oyster crackers. Enjoy!