Clam Chowder

Clams - The All Purpose Bivalve


Clam chowder is the signature dish of New England, but enjoyed all over the world. New England Clam Chowder is a (usually) milk/cream-based soup containing salt pork, minced clam parts, butter and cubed potatoes as ingredients. It is served daily at thousands of restaurants across the United States, Canada and almost anywhere English is spoken.

Although any type of clams can be used, usually quahogs or ocean quahogs are used. Atlantic Surf Clams are also popular, but any palatable clams may be used.

This regional favorite is as common an ambassador of Northeast America as striped bass and the Boston Red Sox. Competition for the title “Best New England Clam Chowder” at seasonal festivals is fierce and scores of entrants are not uncommon. The Legal Sea Foods chain of restaurants, based in Boston, Massachusetts serves as good a clam chowder as any. Its #1 status has been acknowledged numerous times since the restaurant chain was founded in 1950. Legal Sea Foods New England Clam Chowder has led the menu at numerous U.S. Presidential inaugurations.

New England clam chowder is a dish probably created in Colonial times, when there was no food preservation except by drying and salting some perishable foodstuffs. Salt pork, a key ingredient in the recipe was one of the first preserved foods available in the US. Think of the Puritans’ descendants: milk was available to them from the dairy cows they kept. Potatoes were a staple crop that could be kept a long time without spoilage. Salt, an essential mineral, was derived from the evaporation of ocean water (the Salt Works were an integral part of New England coastal villages along with ice houses). The final chowder ingredient, clams was also easily obtained. One waited for low tide, walked to the beach, bent down and dug. New England clam chowder is thus nutritionally balanced. It does not normally include green vegetables, but in terms of health, it’s a start. (New Englanders were fortunate to have cranberries for a local crop -- these provide vitamin C and head off scurvy.)

The best way to sample New England clam chowder today is to watch your local web service or newspaper for chowder festivals. At these events, different restaurants and local gourmands will offer their wares for sampling. Failing that, visit any seafood restaurant recommended by local critics, or by friends. The best place to look for New England Clam Chowder is in Maine or Massachusetts, although today the mid-Atlantic states such as New Jersey and Maryland also offer fine examples. Canned New England clam chowder varieties include Snow’s and Campbell’s. These are available at most supermarkets nationwide. They are adequate.

Beside New England Clam Chowder, and a great deal to the rear stands Manhattan Clam Chowder, considered heresy by New Englanders, of a kind with the Yankees versus the Red Sox. Nonetheless it is savory, sometimes delicious and a reasonable alternative for any clam fan who is lactose-intolerant.

Manhattan Clam Chowder contains no dairy products. It’s a minestrone-type, tomato-based, thin soup made up of clam parts and diced vegetables. Manhattan Clam Chowder is a Mediterranean version of the New England dish, almost without saturated fat. Still, restaurants do not compete for the title of Best Manhattan Clam Chowder. It is worth a try, should you see it on the menu. The best variations are piquant and slightly spicy. Manhattan Clam Chowder if made from scratch is good for you because of the Vitamin C from the tomato base, and other vitamins and minerals present in the diced vegetables. The main concern is sodium: if you purchase this dish in cans from a retailer, look for the brand with the lowest amount. Canned Manhattan Clam Chowder in fact is not worth the effort: don’t bother. The steadfastness and endurance of New England, as symbolized by its clam chowder is matched by the liveliness but especially the freshness of the Mediterranean cuisine that is the basis for Manhattan clam chowder. Buy it in a restaurant, or better yet, cook it yourself.

Some restaurants in Rhode Island serve a "Clear Clam Chowder" which supposedly is more similar to the original clam chowders of the 1700s. It is neither dairy nor tomato based. These are usually served with a small pitcher of warm milk which you may or may not add depending on your preference. We have never encountered a clear clam chowder but look forward to it some day!

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