New England Clam Chowder

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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!

Lightened-Up New England Clam Chowder

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

Healthy Clam Chowder Recipe

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.

Healthier New England Clam Chowder

How To Make Clam Chowder:

To make this healthy clam chowder recipe, simply:

  1. 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).
  2. Sauté the veggies.  Use the bacon grease to sauté the onion, carrots and garlic until softened.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients.  Then add the clam juice, followed by the milk, potatoes and seasonings.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Serve warm.  Garnished with the remaining bacon bits and any other toppings you’d like.

Lighter New England Clam Chowder

Possible Variations:

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!

Enjoy, everyone!

Print
Lightened Up New England Clam Chowder

Lighter New England Clam Chowder

  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: 6 -8 servings 1x

Description

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!


Scale

Ingredients

  • 4 slices bacon, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, ends trimmed and diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 (8 ounce) bottle clam juice
  • 4 cups milk (I used 2%)
  • 1 1/2 pounds Yukon gold or red potatoes, diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 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

Instructions

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Notes

*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.

Lighter Clam Chowder Recipe

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50 comments on “New England Clam Chowder”

  1. I love it… and my hubby hates it! Although, I think he’s one of those who has never actually tried it. I think I’ll have to give this a try some day when he’s not home. :)

  2. Hi , the soup looks interesting and would give it a go. I dislike soup with butter and cream too.

  3. Just last night I was looking at clam chowder made with 3 cups heavy cream and thought oh no. I like your lightened up version.

    • Ahhh – I know! That’s what I’m talking about! Wondering when 3 cups of cream is really necessary for a soup… (If I’m ever going to eat that, it had better be in some a-ma-zing dessert!!!)

  4. I made this for my fiance last night. He is addicted to new england clam chowder but I wanted to find a healthier way to indulge in his cravings. We both loved it!! Delicious. I did blend some and add back in to thicken a little bit. This is going in my recipe box. Thanks!

  5. I love any New England clam chowder. Doesn’t matter where it’s from even the canned version. This looks so much better than the canned version. Definitely #onthemenu. Pinned 

  6. Hey, I still would have eaten your old photos ;)
    I am all about healthier comfort food, and this is most DEFINITELY that. I haven’t tried Panera’s version. but, I’ll just make yours instead. :)
    Pinned!

  7. Holy cow! 62 grams of fat for one serving of soup! Yikes! Glad you posted this lightened up version, it looks yummy! My husband is obsessed with New England Clam Chowder, so I’ll have to give this a try for sure.

  8. As  New England girl, I fully appreciate this post. I love me some clam chowdah, but it can be sooo heavy. But now that I have this lighter version, pass me a big ol’ bowl!

  9. I love this lighter version of my favorite clam chowder ! Pinned!

  10. Thanks for sharing your 2009 pic! Helps me – as a newbie food blogger – to see the amazing things that can be accomplished if I put my time/effort/mind to it :) My hubs is from the east coast and will so appreciate this recipe, pinned!

  11. I’m with you… clams are iffy at best, but clam chowder is soooo good!  I love that you made this a little less fattening for us.  My butt thanks you.

  12. Love soup recipes! I will be trying this one!!!

  13. This is certainly a soup that needs lightening up, I’ve never tried the one at Panera, but I have seen the nutritional info, and yeah, it’s scary. This looks so delicious, and you can clearly tell, there’s no sacrificing flavor. 

  14. This looks amazing, I love that it’s lighter but it still looks so creamy and rich!

  15. I had clam chowder for the first time this Sunday (how is that even possible?) and dang it was good. So fun to see a lightened version — I’ll have to try yours!

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  17. Oh how much I love clam chowder! I’ve been craving it all winter, but never get around it. I’m putting this recipe for my next week’s menu!

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  19. I didn’t have clam juice but what was in the can.  So I added a small can of cream of corn and omitted the celery.  Really good, easy  , cheap recipe and make sure you add a dab of hot sauce.  Yummy

  20. Just made this for the LSU game…..it was delicious!

  21. Could I please get the nutrition count on this recipe. My husband and I so enjoy clam chowder but know the original recipe is a little higher in calories, fat than we want to spend. Would love to try this recipe but would like to have the calorie count. Thanks.

    • Hi Mary! We’re sorry but we are unsure of the nutrition facts/amount of calories in this recipe. We currently are not publishing nutrition facts on the site, as the nutrition calculators available are not 100% accurate, and we never want to publish anything that might be misleading. However, a lot of our readers love the My Fitness Pal nutrition calculator, so feel free to try that for an estimate. We hope that helps!

  22. Great recipe. I love clam chowder, too, but not the calories. I often use fat-free evaporated milk instead of cream and it works very well. Adds that velvety touch without fat calories. Just thought I’d pass that tip along.

  23. This is the best clam chowder i have ever eaten,it will be my forever receipt.

  24. Just the title of this makes me feel all warm and cozy! I love clam chowder!
    Thank Ali

  25. Looks very nice and delicious recipe. I made this for my family and all are surprised Thanks for sharing!

  26. Hi Ali-

    I love ALL your recipes and posts! I have been using your recipes for a few years now, and I can make several by heart now without even looking at the recipe! But this….THIS is my new favorite. I have never made clam chowder before, and as New Englanders, my boyfriend and I are tough chowder critics. This was AMAZING, even better than some restaurant versions I have had. My boyfriend is not a huge bacon fan, so next time I may try only adding the bacon to my portion at the end, or maybe just using a little less. I have always thought that making chowder would be difficult but it was so easy and so good! Thank you!

    • Hi Joanna! Thank you for taking the time to leave such a sweet comment — we’re so happy you enjoyed this recipe! :)

  27. It would be nice if you could publish the calories and nutritional info for your recipes. This one sounds great, but I wanted to make sure it’s low enough in calories for me to eat, so I did the calculation. It’s 1758 for the whole recipe. If you divide it into 6 servings, it’s 293 per serving. Not bad at all! Thanks so much! I’m looking forward to trying it!

    • Hi Cheryl! The reason we currently are not publishing nutrition facts on the site is the nutrition calculators available are not 100% accurate, and we never want to publish anything that might be misleading. That said, we’re glad you were able to get a good estimate from one of the calculators and we hope you enjoy the recipe!

  28. This looks delicious!
    Bacon makes everything better.

  29. My honey is not fond of the texture of clams, so I was thinking of chopping up shrimp instead of the 2 cans of clams. Would you still use the bottle of clam juice for ‘seafood-y’ flavor, or do you think you would sub something else?

    • Sure, you could definitely sub in shrimp. And I would recommend still using the clam juice (or any other preferred kind of seafood stocks) to give the broth some extra flavor. :) Enjoy!

  30. Hallo, Ali!

    Thanks for sharing this recipe – I *love* clam chowder, and this version looks wondrous, and much more friendly to my waistline… I shall be giving it a go this week for sure.

    One little, teensy quibble tho-

    Discard the bacon grease? DISCARD the bacon grease??! Are you daft?

    Being a good Southern Girl, one of the very first things that we learn in the kitchen is to ‘SAVE ALL bacon grease’. The stuff is liquid gold for a lot of recipes (and yes, I know, not the healthiest, but used in moderation…). Besides – you can’t make real cornbread without it.

    Cheers!

  31. Hi Ally,

    Living in Italy with an abundance of fresh clams (vongole) could I steam them open and use their liquid instead of using canned?

    Thanks.

  32. 2 stars
    Dear Ali, Let me start by saying I’ve been following you for years and have made many of your recipes with great success! I enjoy your sharing of travel and family stories so much!

    I am a New Englander – a Yankee born and bred. I was tickled to see this recipe and printed it right off the bat and knew what was for dinner.

    I am a very seasoned cook. I made this exactly as written. It really let me down. The flavor was off. I purchased canned clams from Bar Harbor, Maine, along with the clam juice from the same company. (I usually buy chopped clams at the fish counter, but they were out). I’m not sure what went wrong! It didn’t taste like clam chowder I’d share with friends. We ordered pizza. Sorry to give you a negative review. I know you work hard on your blog.

    Enjoy you just the same, just wondering what it could have been. I did not throw it out yet- the ingredients are $$$. Maybe after it sits a day it will come through.

  33. 5 stars
    Got this recipe in the email this morning and my husband LOVES clam chowder. I had never made it though. Made it tonight and his words, “Best clam chowder I believe I’ve ever had!” It was delicious! The only thing we added was cayenne, because we like a kick to it. Thanks for the recipe!

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  35. Hi Ali ! I tried your recipe yesterday night and both my husband and I really loved the taste of it, reminding us of the clam chowder we had in Boston (it was so good, especially with that cold weather we are having in the Midwest !). The only problem is that I put the flour and bacon grease in the soup, as advised in the recipe, but I unfortunately did not get the thickness expected. I made a reversed roux to fix that and increased the heat as well to thicken it, which definitely made it thicker but not quite as thick as I had hope. Maybe I will try the trick of the mashed potatoes in the soup then next time? Or I will increase the heat before I add the clams in the soup. Thanks for the recipe though ! I keep it in my bookmarks :)

  36. 5 stars
    This is was exactly what I was looking for in a chowder recipe! Really delish. If you can get them, I’d recommend Bar Harbor canned clams, they have wonderful flavor and texture. With some oyster crackers on top? Irresistible. Can’t wait to have this all week. Thanks Ali!

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  38. 5 stars
    I just made a batch of this. It tastes wonderful! The only changes I made were to use onion powder instead of onions because I have someone in my family who hates onions. I didn’t see any need to add bacon because to me, that is all it ends up tasting like. I also transferred it to my slow cooker once the potatoes were just about done. That way, I don’t have to “mind the stove” and check to make sure it’s not sticking on the bottom.

  39. This is just the recipe I am looking for. I got some fresh organic corn on the cob and I want to make a corn and clam chowder…I think adding some corn would be good!