Lighter New England Clam Chowder

Lighter New England Clam Chowder |

Once upon a time, I was extremely obsessed with Panera’s New England clam chowder.

To be specific, that “time” was during the seven or so years that I worked as a musician at a mega church out in the ‘burbs of Kansas City.  Quick, affordable restaurants were scarce out there in one of the top wealthiest counties in the United States.  But there was a trusty a Panera nearby.  And when those 12-hour days hit, with band rehearsals that usually lasted late into the night, I started to become a more and more frequent customer.  Their “You Pick Two” combo was my jam.  (Still is.)  And the best day to visit was on Thursdays.

New England Clam Chowder Day.

Oh my goodness, I loved Clam Chowder Day.  Actually, I wasn’t sure if I even liked clams.  But Panera’s rich, creamy, and comforting chowder was my gateway into at least giving them a try.  And anytime it was on the menu, without fail, it was what I wanted to order.  And so I did.  For years, upon years, upon years.

But then one day, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to look up the nutrition facts for this soup.  And, as happens to too many restaurant favorites, this happy story came to a very quick ending.  A sixty-two grams of fat per serving kind of ending. For just one bowl of soup.  Why do restaurants do that?!

Oof.  Well, I’ll still credit Panera with making a stellar soup and introducing me to clams.  But I must say that my favorite version of classic, thick, rich and creamy version is now this lighter version that I make homemade.  Honestly, I like it even better than the heavy-cream-filled version.  And, it’s also really simple to make, and you can control how “clam-y” you’d like it to taste.  You in??

How To Make New England Clam Chowder | 1-Minute Video

I actually posted the recipe for this lighter New England Clam Chowder here in 2009, back when I was still working in the ‘burbs.  But since most of you weren’t around back then, I thought I would snap some new photos of the soup when I made it for the 50th time this winter.

Lighter New England Clam Chowder |

Here’s the 2015 version.  ;)

Lighter New England Clam Chowder |

It’s really just a simple chowder base that — similar to my favorite potato soup recipe — is made creamy with milk instead of cream, and thickened up with the combination of a roux and by pureeing some of the potatoes after they have cooked.  Then just add in some canned (or fresh) chopped clams and a bottle of clam juice…

Lighter New England Clam Chowder |

…and this classic (and lighter!) version of the soup is ready to go.
Lighter New England Clam Chowder |

I also like to use a few slices of bacon to flavor the soup, reserving some of the bits to sprinkle on top along with some chives.

Lighter New England Clam Chowder |

But how you serve it is totally up to you.

If you’re a clam chowdah lovah, I just recommend that you make a batch for yourself, and have a Clam Chowder Day soon!

Lighter New England Clam Chowder |

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Lighter New England Clam Chowder

If you love New England Clam Chowder, try this lighter version! It’s still thick, creamy, and delicious, but it’s made lighter with a few simple tweaks.


  • 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%)
  • 1.5 pounds Yukon gold or red potatoes, diced (and peeled if you’d rather not have skins)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or more/less to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
  • 2 (7-ounce) cans minced clams (not drained, keep the juice!)
  • optional garnish: chopped chives, dash of hot sauce


  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 3 tablespoons of bacon grease in the stockpot.  (Discard any extra grease, or you can substitute butter in place of the 3 tablespoons of bacon grease.  Also, if you are short on time, I recommend dicing the potatoes and onion while the bacon cooks.)
  2. Add onion and saute for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft.  Add celery and garlic, and saute for an additional minute, stirring occasionally.  Sprinkle the flour on top of the mixture, and stir until combined.  Saute for an additional minute to cook the flour, stirring occasionally.  Add in the clam juice and stir until combined.  Then stir in the milk, potatoes, bay leaf, salt, Old Bay, thyme, black pepper and half of the bacon bits and stir until combined.  Continue cooking until the mixture reaches a simmer, but is not boiling.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for about 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft, stirring occasionally every few minutes so that the bottom does not burn.  (The smaller you dice your potatoes, the faster they will cook.)
  4. When the potatoes are soft, stir in the clams.  Taste, and season with more salt and pepper if needed.
  5. Serve warm, garnished with desired toppings.
All images and text ©

If you make this recipe, be sure to snap a photo and hashtag it #gimmesomeoven. I'd love to see what you cook!

Lighter New England Clam Chowder |

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37 comments on “Lighter 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. :)

  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… 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!