Steamer Clam Chowder

Steamer clam chowder is our idea of the perfect chowder. This recipe keeps things simple yet spectacular with clams, salt pork, potatoes, and ladlefuls of creamy broth.

Steamer Clam Chowder Recipe

We know from experience that everyone has their own idea of the perfect clam chowder – and, more to the point, their own idea of what is not the perfect clam chowder. This incarnation keeps things very simple, with clams, salt pork, potatoes and oodles of cream being the main flavor contenders. We would never go as far as to say that this is the definitive recipe for steamer clam chowder—those would be fightin’ words—but we will say it’s a recipe that holds its own. This recipe has been updated. Originally published October 15, 2009.Renee Schettler Rossi

What Are Steamer Clams?

What exactly are steamer clams? Author Jasper White explains that for this clam chowder, he calls for “soft-shell clams, or steamer clams, which have two oval shells about two to three inches long that gape along the edges. Their most prominent feature is a siphon, about a quarter of the length of the shell, which sticks out of the clam. Whole soft-shell clams are often referred to as “steamers,” because that’s the way they’re most often prepared. When salty old-timers refer to ‘clams,’ soft-shells are what they mean.” This recipe has been updated. Originally published October 15, 2009.

Steamer Clam Chowder Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 1 H, 10 M
  • 2 H, 30 M
  • 10 to 12 as an app | 6 to 8 as a main

Ingredients

  • 5 pounds small to medium soft-shell clams (steamers)
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 ounces meaty salt pork, rind removed and cut into 1/3-inch dice, or bacon cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion (10 to 12 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 stalks celery (4 ounces), cut into 1/3-inch dice
  • 2 to 3 sprigs thyme, leaves removed and chopped (1 teaspoon)
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold, Maine, PEI, or other all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (up to 2 cups if desired)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Kosher or sea salt, if needed
  • Garnish
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • Oyster crackers, if desired

Directions

  • 1. Fill 2 large pots (or 2 sinks) with cold water. Place the clams in one pot of water, discarding any dead ones or clams with cracked shells. Gently move them around in the water and let them soak for a few minutes, then lift them out and place them in the other pot of cold water. Rinse the first pot and fill it again. Move the clams around again, then transfer them back to the clean pot. Continue to switch the clams back and forth, letting them soak for a few minutes each time, and then lifting them out of the pot, until the water remains crystal clear. The process should take 4 or 5 soakings.
  • 2. Put the 2 cups water in an 8-quart pot, cover, and bring to a rolling boil. Quickly but gently place the clams in the pot and cover again. After 4 minutes, remove the lid and quickly stir the clams with a wooden spoon, trying to lift some of the clams from the bottom to the top so they will cook evenly-but be gentle, the shells are very brittle and crack easily. Cover and continue to steam for another 4 to 5 minutes. (The broth will most likely overflow just as the clams have finished cooking.) All the clams should be open; if not, steam them a minute or two longer. Remove the clams and strain the broth; you should have 4 cups.
  • 3. When the clams are cool, remove them from the shells and cut off the siphons, as well as the protective skin that covers each siphon, and discard. (You should have about 1 pound of clam meat.) Cover and refrigerate until later.
  • 4. Heat a 4- to 6-quart heavy pot over low heat and add the diced salt pork or bacon. Once it has rendered a few tablespoons of fat, increase the heat to medium and cook until the pork is crisp and golden brown. With a slotted spoon, transfer the cracklings to a small ovenproof dish, leaving the fat in the pot, and reserve until later.
  • 5. Add the butter, onion, celery, thyme, and bay leaves to the pot and saute, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened but not browned.
  • 6. Add the potatoes and the reserved clam broth. The broth should just barely cover the potatoes; if it doesn’t, add enough water to cover them. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil, cover, and cook the potatoes vigorously for about 10 minutes, or until they are soft on the outside but still firm in the center. If the broth hasn’t thickened lightly, smash a few potatoes against the side of the pot and cook a minute or two longer to release the starch.
  • 7. Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the clams and the cream and season to taste with black pepper and possibly a pinch of salt (the saltiness of steamers varies). If you are not serving the chowder within the hour, let it cool a bit, then refrigerate; cover the chowder after it has chilled completely. Otherwise, let it sit at room temperature for up to an hour, allowing the flavors to meld.
  • 8. When ready to serve, reheat the clam chowder over low heat; don’t let it boil. Try not to stir too often, because you don’t want to break open the clam bellies. Warm the cracklings in a low oven 200°F (90°C) for a few minutes.
  • 9. Ladle the clam chowder into cups or bowls, making sure that the steamers, onions, and potatoes are evenly divided. Scatter the cracklings or bacon over the individual servings and sprinkle with the chopped parsley and oyster crackers.
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Comments

  1. I’ve been using Jasper White’s 50 Chowders for years. It’s filled with history of New England chowders. It’s Labor Day, 2017. In Maine, where I now live, I have 2 cans of good quality whole belly clams in the cupboard. We’re not doing a cookout, but this clam chowder will fill the bill very well. Thanks for this recipe!

  2. I will give this a try. My usual recipe is very similar to this one, but uses a quart of half & half and no water or clam juice. And if that weren’t enough, I always stirred in a pound or so of grated mozzarella just before serving. I’m getting to an age where I better start cooking a little more,,,wisely, shall we say? Only a cup or so of cream? Positively diet!

  3. I have been making a chowder very much like this for over 50 years. However, I do not add the cream to the whole batch. I heat the amount of chowder I need and then add the cream. The rest I refrigerate, it keeps longer without the dairy and heating just the base there is no danger of it cruddling.

  4. I have been looking for a really good clam chowder recipe. My mom and I used to make years ago. We lived just outside of Boston and every summer we would vacation on Cape Cod where we get dig our own clams or quohogs. Mom and I would make chowder, stuffed quohogs, or fra divolo with them. And sometimes we would just wash and eat right out of the shells. They were so wonderful no matter what we did with them! I did the same with my sons. My mom had a wonderful recipe for chowder we used. For some reason over the years, I have misplaced that recipe but this one sounds very similar and I will definitely try. My 11 years old granddaughter who lives in London adores clam chowder and I want to make it for her when she comes to visit me on Cape Cod. Thank you!

    1. Esther, being a fellow South Coaster, I understand the adoration of a good clam chowder. There are two things I eat whenever I go back to my parents’ home in Massachusetts: fried clams and clam chowder. I don’t like those thick, gloppy chowders. I was in East Hampton last week and has the most god-awful chowder. It was so thick you could almost stand a spoon up in it. I prefer a cream-based chowder that’s loose. I also prefer steamers not chopped littlenecks or quahogs. I have to say this only get better and better with age. When I photographed the bowl, the chowder was three days old, and it was incredible. All the flavors had time to nestle in together.

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