This delicious New England Clam Chowder recipe is lightened up a bit with a few simple tweaks, yet still just as creamy, hearty and delicious as ever!
Back in the days when I used to work long days hidden away in a basement cubicle, escaping out into the sunshine each afternoon during my lunch break was an absolute must. Granted, I was fresh out of college and working in a non-prof job, so going out for pricey lunches day after day was out of the question. But I did manage to scout out a pretty delicious list of $5 lunches in the neighborhood that my coworkers and I loved to hit up on occasion. And one that I especially looked forward to was Thursdays at Panera, also known back then as…
…New England Clam Chowder day.
Oh my goodness, I absolutely adore a good bowl of creamy New England clam chowder. And for many years, a nice little affordable cup of soup at Panera was one of the lunch hour highlights of my week. Until — of course — I caught a glimpse of the nutrition facts one day and realized just how much heavy cream goes into the real deal. To be sure, it’s delicious. But I figured I could do better.
So I went home and decided to try making a lightened-up version of my own, and the result was this delicious recipe below. The soup is just as thick and creamy and flavorful as ever, but it’s made with a lightened-up milk base that can either be thickened with a roux or just by pureeing some of the potatoes. So no heavy cream is needed! And bonus — the homemade version is considerably cheaper than anything you can order out at a restaurant.
So to those of you who love a good New England clam chowder day as much as I do, I highly recommend giving this one a try. ♡
New England Clam Chowder Recipe | 1-Minute Video
New England Clam Chowder Ingredients:
Here’s what you need to make this New England clam chowder recipe:
Bacon: I like using traditional bacon for this recipe, but you’re welcome to sub in turkey bacon instead.
Veggies: Onion, celery and garlic will season our broth.
Flour: Which we will use to make a roux and thicken the soup. Or you’re welcome to leave out the flour and just thicken the soup by mashing or pureeing some of the potatoes instead.
Clam juice: One bottle, to help add extra clam-y flavor to the broth.
Milk: I traditionally use 2% cow’s milk for this recipe, but any plain milk will do.
Potatoes: Either Yukon gold or red potatoes.
Seasonings: Bay leaf, Old Bay seasoning, dried thyme, salt and pepper
Clams: 2 cans of minced clams
Plus whatever toppings you love. I like adding in some fresh chives or green onions, a dash of hot sauce, or some oyster crackers. That said, a nice slice of crusty bread (or a bread bowl) is also delicious with clam chowder.
How To Make Clam Chowder:
To make this healthy clam chowder recipe, simply:
Cook the bacon. Dice the bacon, then fry it in a large stockpot until cooked. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked bacon to a separate plate, and reserve about 2 tablespoons of bacon grease in the pan (discarding any extra).
Sauté the veggies. Use the bacon grease to sauté the onion, carrots and garlic until softened.
Add the remaining ingredients. Then add the clam juice, followed by the milk, potatoes and seasonings.
Simmer until cooked. Bring the soup to a simmer (not a boil). Then reduce the heat to medium-low to continue the simmer, and let the soup cook until the potatoes have softened. You will need to stir the soup every few minutes so that the bottom does not burn.
Add in the clams and season. Discard the bay leaf and add in the clams (with their juices) and half of the bacon. Then give the soup a good stir, taste, and season with salt and pepper as needed.
Serve warm. Garnished with the remaining bacon bits and any other toppings you’d like.
If you would like to make some changes to this clam chowder soup, feel free to:
Omit the bacon. If you would like to keep this recipe pescetarian, feel free to skip the bacon. You will need to add in some extra butter or oil to sauté the veggies. And I would also recommend adding in a bit of extra Old Bay seasoning for flavor.
Make it gluten-free. Just skip adding the flour, and instead, mash (or puree) half of the potatoes in the soup to help thicken it.
Make it spicy. If you would like to give your soup more of a kick, feel free to add in some hot sauce.
Use different seasoning. If Old Bay seasoning isn’t available at your grocery store, you can substitute Cajun or Creole seasoning. Or if you prefer, feel free to just use Italian seasoning instead.
What To Serve With This Soup:
Here are some side dishes that I’d recommend with this soup!
2 (7-ounce) cans minced clams (not drained, keep the juice)
sea salt and freshly-cracked black pepper
optional garnish: chopped fresh chives or green onions, dash of hot sauce
Heat a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add diced bacon and cook until crispy, stirring occasionally. Transfer the bacon to a separate plate using a slotted spoon, reserving about 2 tablespoons of bacon grease in the stockpot. (Discard any extra grease, or you can substitute butter in place of the 2 tablespoons of bacon grease.)
Add onion and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add celery and garlic, and sauté for an additional minute, stirring occasionally. Add flour* and stir until combined. Sauté for an additional minute to cook the flour, stirring occasionally. Add in the clam juice and stir until combined. Add in the milk, potatoes, bay leaf, Old Bay, thyme, half of the bacon bits and stir until combined. Continue cooking until the mixture reaches a simmer, stirring occasionally.
Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for about 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft, stirring every few minutes so that the bottom does not burn.
Once the potatoes have softened, stir in the clams and half of the cooked bacon. Remove the bay leaf. Taste the soup, and then season with salt and pepper as needed.
Serve warm, garnished with the remaining bacon bits and any other desired toppings. Or store in a sealed container and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
*Feel free to omit the flour and 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease if you would like to lighten this soup up a bit. And instead, to thicken the soup, simply mash or puree some of the potatoes before adding in the clams.