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The History of New England Clam Chowder

Recipe for New England Clam Chowder

by Gabriel Coeli

New England clam chowder – a dish both famous and infamous, a soup some swear by and others swear at – done perfectly is one of America 's great culinary traditions. Done less than perfectly, it mirrors what the rest of the world tends to opine on our culinary traditions, which, for those readers not on board and failing to infer what I'm emanating here, is poor . Not good .

But New England clam chowder, while hardly a global dish and specifically American, is nevertheless renowned in culinary circles worldwide for its simplicity and its seeming invincible ability when done (we stress) properly to cause people to drive for miles, tens and hundreds in some cases, for a good bowl of it.

Without further ado, presents:

The Last Clam Chowder on Earth


Who made the first clam chowder? Impossible to pin on one person, but chowder, any of a variety of soups featuring salted pork fat, thickened with a flour, heavy roux, crumbled ship biscuit or saltine crackers and milk, first materialized with Breton fisherman who migrated south to New England from Newfoundland. They would take much of the offal of their daily catches and combine them with readily available ingredients in large soup pots to feed themselves, each other and their families.

Over time, as it became a culinary staple in the Northeast, the recipe refined and began to be served commercially. This was when large amounts of milk and cream began to be added, giving it its characteristic look and texture we know today. Also, large slices of potato became common in the soup, and in the chowders widely recognized as the best, onions sautéed in the drippings from pork fat are also incorporated into the recipe. To this day there are usually never vegetables besides a select few legumes added to chowders, although some recipes call for thinly sliced strips of carrot to enhance the aesthetic value.


The word “chowder” is usually recognized to have come from the French chaudière , which translated literally means “pot” though it refers to a specific cooking pot in French cuisine. Chaudière in turn comes from chaud , which is French for, literally, “hot” and is derived from the Latin calderia , the word from which the English language gets our word cauldron. It is sometimes argued that chowder comes from the Old English word jowter , a word with Nordic philological roots, but this is not seriously recognized by modern etymologists due to the heavy French population in Newfoundland , where the inventors of the dish originated.

Clam Chowder Today

Today clam chowder comes in many varieties, beloved as it is: The New England variety, the most popular, alongside Manhattan chowder, also called “Coney Island Chowder” and “Fulton Fish Market Chowder,” which is made with tomatoes, and though both are popular in the Northeast, only one will be served at a restaurant, rarely if ever side by side. There is also Rhode Island Chowder, which has a clear broth and is often not made with clams but with fish, usually cod, and also corn and onions. Also, many restaurants claim to have their own unique chowders and recipes for fish and clam chowders that, while not falling into traditional categories, nevertheless are veritable chowders themselves, and though too numerous to quantify, there are excellent original creations in existence that some believe surpass the famous recipes.

Clam chowder these days is often served with octagonal crackers made specifically for the dish, and is sometimes served in sourdough bread bowls, often in San Francisco, which takes pride in sourdough as a signature dish since the mid-1800s.

It is often popular to put Clam Chowder in a Bread Loaf

The Newport , Rhode Island “Great Chowder Cook-Off” is the largest competition for different varieties of chowders cooked in the Northeast, although it attracts patrons and participants from around the country.

Gaberial Coeli


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