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What to Eat in Boston: New England Clam Chowder

What to Eat in Boston: New England Clam Chowder

Eat Your World spotlights regional foods and drinks around the globe, from New York to New Delhi. Visit their Massachusetts section for more of the best local dishes in Boston.

What: The thick, creamy, white chowder associated with New England has inexact roots, but likely has been spooned up and slurped down in this area since the 1730s. The word and dish is thought to have come from France, possibly via England or, as one popular theory attests, via the Breton fisherman who migrated down from Newfoundland; these sailors apparently would cook their catch in large steam-boiler cauldrons called chaudières, perhaps providing an etymology for the word. In any case, what was customarily made with fish overseas was soon made with clams — large quahogs, specifically — on America’s northeast coast, where the bivalves are aplenty; other common ingredients are potato, onion, cream and/or milk, sometimes butter, and traditionally, salt pork fat. (Suffice it to say, this is one food for which you do not want to know the calorie count. Ignorance is bliss!) Like Long Island’s clam pie, it’s one of those simple use-what-you-have dishes that probably originated with the poor. Unlike the clam pie, New England clam chowder has flourished as a regional, and even national, dish over the years, because when it’s good, it’s so exquisitely good. It’s not unheard of to cross town, or even a state line or two, just to score a great bowl of "chowdah."

Good to know: Clam chowder has gotten some notable literary love. In Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Ishmael describes the Nantucket clam chowder he dines on, and judges it "surpassingly excellent;" in a 1939 New England cookbook, Cape Cod author Joseph C. Lincoln wrote it was "a dish to preach about, to chant praises and sing hymns and burn incense before. To fight for… It is as American as the Stars and Stripes, as patriotic as the national anthem."

Note to pescatarians: It’s safe to assume, unless stated otherwise, that any chowder in New England will have pork in it, even if you can’t see bits of meat (the fat is often used).

Where: We love the chowder at Legal Sea Foods (multiple locations including 255 State St.), a regional chain that dates to 1950s Cambridge. The restaurants are found all over the East Coast now, but it still makes sense in Boston to belly up to the bar here for some chowdah. Fittingly, the State Street branch on Long Wharf is just a stone’s throw from the harbor’s sea breezes.

When: Hours vary by franchise. State Street’s hours: Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Order: Don’t feel guilty and order the "lite" chowder here: You need the regular old New England clam chowder, and you’d better make it a bowl ($6.95). Of all the types of clam chowder you’ll find in Boston and beyond, this is the kind we like best: creamy, simple, flavorful. You’ve got your clams, your potatoes and onions, your rendered salt pork, your (optional) oyster crackers. What else do you need? A cold local beer. And maybe a plate of New England fried whole-bellied clams.

Alternatively: We also enjoyed the chowder at Kelly’s Roast Beef, in Revere, Mass., on the North Shore (15 minutes north of Boston); it’s thinner in consistency, but chock-full of clams and flavor — and what’s better than clam chowder with an ocean view? Another thinner, yet tasty and refined, chowder is that at Neptune Oyster, where it makes an excellent first course for your next lobster roll.

Laura Siciliano-Rosen is the co-founder of Eat Your World, a website that spotlights regional foods and drinks around the globe. Follow Eat Your World on Twitter @eat_your_world.


How to Make Classic Durgin Park New England Clam Chowder with a Few Simple Ingredients


Durgin Park New England clam chowder . Photo, courtesy of Durgin Park.

Recipe and photo, courtesy of Durgin Park Restaurant, Boston, Massachusetts. Updated 12/28/16.

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As a lifelong resident with a love for local foods, I am always searching for great New England clam chowder. Durgin Park Restaurant at Faneuil Hall in Boston, Massachusetts always seemed to top the head of the list. It's so sad that they closed on Jan. 12, 2019. Proving that often the older, traditional New England restaurants got it right the first time, the famous Durgin Park -- having been in business for well over a century -- created the most amazing, classic New England clam chowder -- perfect in flavor, texture and serving size! But even though Durgin Park is closed, the New England clam chowder recipe remains. Here is how you can make your own legendary Durgin Park New England clam chowder at home with a few simple ingredients:

4 pounds of chopped clams
46 ounces of clam juice
6 teaspoons celery salt
6 teaspoons white pepper
6 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco Sauce
4 to 6 whole potatoes
1 pound butter
3 cups flour
1 quart half and half

Place the clams and clam juice in a stockpot. Add the celery salt, white pepper, Worcestershire sauce and tabasco to taste. Peel and ice the potatoes. Add to the clams. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to simmer, and cook slowly. I na small saucepan melt the butter. Graudally add the flour to make a white roux. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes on low heat. Whisk the roux into the clam mixture, and add the half-and-half. Cook slowly to blend all ingredients. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

When in Massachusetts, be sure to visit Durgin Park, as it is definitely a Boston tourist restaurant attraction!

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21 must-try Boston clam chowders

The "Mooncusser Chowder" at Mooncusser Fish House. Madeline Reynolds

updated on February 20, 2020

Clam chowder can sometimes feel more like a regional stereotype than an actual food consumed by locals, so there’s no shortage of disappointing swill aimed at Freedom Trail trekkers. But anyone tempted to turn their back on clam-based broth for good does so at their own peril: Boston is filled with tempting cups and bowls of the classic soup — if you know where to look.

From creamy, traditional recipes flavored by salt pork to boundary-pushers incorporating smoked butter and seaweed, here are 21 Boston-area chowders that can make even the most cynical New Englander proud. And no, none of them are Manhattan-style.

1. Alive & Kicking Lobsters
While this humble seafood outpost in Cambridgeport is best known for its lobster sandwiches served on toasted bread, New England’s other iconic dish hasn’t been forgotten. Leave the lobsters alive and kicking and opt for one of five styles: clam, fish, lobster, seafood, or roasted corn and shrimp. (269 Putnam Ave., Cambridge)

The clam chowder at Atlantic Fish Co. can also be served in a bread bowl.

2. Atlantic Fish Co.
The clam chowder served at Atlantic Fish Co. in the Back Bay is every bit as traditional as its wood-paneled interior. The recipe is more than four decades old and uses salt pork in place of bacon. And while it’s typically served in a cup, you can upgrade your chowder to a less traditional but deeply satisfying vessel in the form of a bread bowl. (761 Boylston St., Boston)

The New England clam chowder at B&G Oysters comes with a spicy crouton garnish.

3. B&G Oysters
The take on clam chowder at Barbara Lynch’s South End seafood bastion is traditional but only to a point. Topneck clams and bacon lardons give the chowder here a meaty, slightly smoky quality, and white wine and clam juice counterbalance its richness. A spicy crouton garnish adds a satisfying crunch. (550 Tremont St., Boston)


Steps to Make It

The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

In a heavy stockpot over medium-high heat, render the bacon until crispy (about 8 minutes).

The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

Stir in the leeks, onions, celery, and carrots. Sauté for about 2 minutes or until the vegetables begin to wilt.

The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

Season the vegetables with salt and pepper. Add the bay leaves and thyme.

The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes.

The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

Add the potatoes. Stir in the clam juice. Bring the liquid up to a boil and reduce to a simmer.

The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

Simmer the mixture until the potatoes are fork tender (about 12 minutes). Add the heavy cream and bring up to a simmer.

The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

Add the clams and simmer for 2 minutes. Stir in the parsley. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.

The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

If you have any leftover chowder, store it in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. Be sure to eat it within a day. With any cooked clam dish, don't freeze it because the clams will get very tough.

Fresh clams really do make the best clam chowder. If you have not worked with them before they can seem intimidating. It's not a difficult process, though, especially if you know a few tricks to preparing fresh clams.

Scrub each clamshell with a brush to remove any sand and dirt.

The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

Force the clams to purge any sand they might have inside by ​covering them with salt water for a few hours.

The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

To make shucking the clams a little easier, freeze them for about 15 minutes. Then, let them rest at room temperature for a few minutes before trying to open them.

The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

The clam juice (or liquor, as it's often called) can be saved while you're shucking. Simply shuck over a bowl to capture the liquor and use it in the chowder.

Another option is to look for clams that are already shucked at the seafood counter. It's likely that you'll pay a little more for the convenience, but it might be worth it for a quick meal on a busy weeknight.

Source: "Emeril's TV Dinners" by Emeril Lagasse (William Morrow & Co.), reprinted with permission.


15 Dishes that will make you homesick for Boston

New England cuisine is one that’s comforting, flavorful and unique to the region. Today, we’re taking you to Boston for a trip down recipe lane.

When you think of Boston, what foods come to mind? Whether it’s a good clam chowder or some traditional brown bread, we’ve got you covered. Cook and bake up some of these regional recipes in your home today. Packed with culture, Boston is home to the oldest restaurant in the U.S.: Union Oyster House. It’s also home to the North End, where you can find Italian bakeries and specialties. Travel to Boston with the following recipes.

1. New England clam chowder recipe

New England clam chowder is the classic chowder of New England, especially in Massachusetts. It’s rich and creamy, and every restaurant has its own version.

2. Sweet potato and corn clam chowder recipe

Another version is this sweet potato and corn clam chowder. Like we said, everyone has their own version of chowder.

3. Oyster stew recipe

Typically oyster stew is made to order so as to not overcook the fresh oysters. Rich with cream and fresh herbs, it’s normally served as a daily special at restaurants.

4. Best ever Boston baked beans recipe

Made with molasses and salt pork traditionally, these best ever Boston baked beans are the perfect side dish. This dish became so popular that Boston was nicknamed “Beantown.”

4. Lobster bisque recipe

Warm up during the cold Boston months with a bowl of this lobster bisque, made with sweet lobster off the coast of this state.

5. Old Bay oyster crackers recipe

Old Bay oyster crackers are the perfect accompaniment to clam chowders, lobster bisques and oyster stews.

6. Cod fish cakes recipe

Cod is a fish commonly used in all preparations in Boston, like in these cod fish cakes.

7. Cheesy baked stuffed cod recipe

Try this cheesy baked stuffed cod at your next dinner party. Your guests will be impressed, but you’ll know how easy it was to make.

8. Lobster mac and cheese recipe

An indulgent recipe, this lobster mac and cheese is served all over Boston, with fresh, sweet lobster making its appearance in as many recipes as possible.

9. Lobster roll recipe

Unlike the Connecticut lobster roll that’s drenched in warm butter, the New England roll has mayonnaise, lemon and sometimes herbs folded into it.

10. Beer-steamed clams recipe

What would make these beer-steamed clams even more Boston is if you steam them in Samuel Adams beer.

11. White clam pizza recipe

The Italian presence in Boston is strong, and this white clam pizza is a take on pizzas all over the North End.

12. Boston cream pie recipe

Boston cream pie, probably the most famous dessert Boston is known for.

13. Parker House rolls recipe

Parker House rolls were created at the Parker House Hotel and are served at its bar and restaurant to this day.

14. Creamy cranberry pie recipe

Try a recipe for creamy cranberry pie, since cranberries are a national crop in Massachusetts. Although there aren’t any cranberry bogs, just outside of Boston there are plenty.

15. Classic Irish coffee recipe

Irish coffee is the perfect way to end the night, paying homage to the Irish population in Boston.


What to Eat in Boston: New England Clam Chowder - Recipes

Although ingredients differ across New England, the classic Boston chowder contains cream, clams and potatoes. The New York variant is tomato-based and has a very different flavor and texture. Should you have been so lucky to spend a summer on Cape Cod or the Maine coast, let this clam chowder bring back those memories of sun, sea and sand.

1 oz (30g) butter
6 slices streaky bacon, chopped
2 onions, chopped
3 tbsp flour
1 pint (475ml) chicken stock
1 ¼ lb (565g) tinned clams in brine
2 bay leaves
4 potatoes, peeled and chopped
8 fl oz (235ml) heavy (double) cream
Salt and pepper

TO GARNISH:
2 slices streaky bacon, chopped

Heat the butter in a large saucepan. Add the bacon, fry for a couple of minutes, then add the onions and fry for a further five minutes or until just softened.

Sprinkle over the flour and stir to combine, then pour over the stock, stirring well. Strain the clams and add the clam liquid into the pot.

Add the bay leaves, potatoes and cream and bring to a simmer, stirring regularly, then reduce and cover for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, fry the remaining two slices of bacon until golden and crispy, then reserve and keep warm.

Finally, remove the bay leaves, add the clams and season to taste. Cook just until the clams are heated through, then serve. Garnish with the crispy bacon.


Genuine Recipes

It’s the middle of a sunny early-fall afternoon, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Downtown Boston is packed with folks walking to and from Chinatown, Faneuil Hall, the North End, and the Seaport. My fiancé and I are wading through the crowded greenway toward a clam chowder kiosk in the iconic Boston food hall Quincy Market—one of a dozen stops I’ll make over the next week as I attempt to find Boston’s best bowl of clam chowder.

I grew up near the coast, on Boston’s North Shore, which means I grew up eating more than my fair share of clam chowder. Some versions were thin some were thick. Sometimes the clams were tender and sweet and a little briny sometimes they were tough and hard to chew. My clam chowder–eating was perfunctory and instinctual, the routine behavior of a [serious voice] native New Englander. And it was anything but thoughtful.

That is, until I was asked to define just what exactly makes a good traditional New England clam chowder, and find the top takes on the dish in Boston.

When we arrive at the market, it’s elbow-to-elbow inside—the hall is packed with tourists and newly minted empty nesters whose children have, just hours before, matriculated to one of Boston’s many universities. My fiancé and I amble through the crowd and toward Boston Chowda Co., where diners can order a reasonably sized cup of clam chowder, or a fishbowl’s worth of the stuff, served in a hollowed-out boule. We order the smallest size and find a square foot of counter space to eat on.

The chowder is pleasantly thick and salty, spicy and clammy. The clams are plentiful and tender the potatoes are velvety, medium-sized chunks and the base is creamy without feeling like something you might put in your coffee. This is a perfectly good version of New England clam chowder…but is it traditional?


What to Eat in Boston: New England Clam Chowder - Recipes

Boston Harbor Chowderfest
  • 3 oz. Salt Pork in 1/4? to 3/8? dice
  • 1 c chopped onion
  • 2/3 c chopped celery
  • 1/2 t white pepper
  • 1/2 t salt
Bar Harbor Bottled Clam Juice Steamed and Commercial Clams Artisan Salt Pork in Package Cutting Up Salt Pork Add Salt Pork Cubes to Medium Hot Pan Frying Salt Pork Cubes Drain Salt Pork Cubes on Paper Towels Onion Diced Sautee the Onion and Celery until Translucent Add Enough Flour to the Vegetables to Soak Up the Fat Adding the Potatoes and Clam Juice Add the Half & Half to the Pot Bowl of Clam Chowder with Oyster Crackers and Fried Salt Pork Bits
Recipe Yield: Serves 4-6
Prep Time - Active: 1 hour
Cooking Time: 1 hour
Category: The Big Game, Awards Night, Appetizers, Seafood, Special Occasions, Chowder
Cooking Techniques: Sauteeing, Simmering
Cuisine: American

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Cliff House Clam Chowder Recipe

The Cliff House Resort and Spa in Ogunquit, Maine, is one of those places we hope to get to soon, given its coastal splendor perched atop a dramatic cliff on the coast of southern Maine. Until then, we plan to bring a Cliff House comfort dish to our home -- the Cliff House clam chowder, a comfort dish recipe dating back to 1872. As a Cliff House favorite and winner of an award at the Boston Harbor Fest in July 2003, this is a locally-made clam chowder with a reputation!

We received word from a Cliff House press release sent to us on how to make this exceptional clam chowder with the following caveat:

"All of you non-New Englanders will please note there are no tomatoes to be seen anywhere near this soup pot. The very mention of that “other place’s” version causes the Weare family—operating the Resort for generations—to shudder. In fact, the Maine legislature once introduced a bill to outlaw forever the adulteration of Maine Clam "Chowdah" with that dreaded red interloper. This recipe is fun to make, but the missing ingredient just may be eating it while longing for The Cliff House dining room view of the vast Atlantic."

Without further delay, here is the Cliff House Clam Chowder Recipe:

3 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted
6 slices apple wood smoked bacon
1/2 cup white onion, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1 large ear of native corn, kernels removed
1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon fresh basil, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
2 cups clams, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups clam broth
3 cups heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 1/2 cups potato, peeled and diced
5 drops Tabasco Sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch
2 tablespoons water

1. In a 4-quart pot, melt butter and sauté bacon until golden brown. Add diced
onions and celery, and sauté until tender and translucent.

2. Place corn kernels on a small sheet pan and roast at 350ºF for approximately 6 minutes. Set aside when finished.

3. Add clam broth, white pepper, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco Sauce, potatoes and fresh herbs to the 4-quart pot. Cook for approximately 13 minutes to soften potatoes and incorporate flavors. Add heavy cream, chopped clams and corn. Bring to a boil and thicken with equal parts arrowroot and water.

For more resort information and recipe ideas, log onto the Cliff House Web Site.


1. Boston baked beans

Boston baked beans from State Street Provisions.

They don’t call it “beantown” for nothing. With a history of being served during Native American meals, beans slow-baked in molasses are not only a nod to times of yore, but also to when the city was awash in molasses during its part in the “triangular trade.” The dish is traditionally served in a small crock, with brown bread sitting sidecar.

Beantown Pub
When you’re located along Boston’s Freedom Trail, it’s a no-brainer to dish out a classic plate or two. The Beantown Baked Beans is a traditional recipe with brown bread on the side. (100 Tremont St., Boston)

Bukowski Tavern
If Chef Brian Poe could cook this Boston tradition in an old 1800s fireplace with a hanging pot, he said he would. He instead layers bacon, beans, molasses, and brown sugar, and bakes the casserole for four hours for his Frank ‘N Beans special. (1281 Cambridge St., Cambridge)

Rebel’s Guild
Chef Sean Dutson takes two days for this heirloom recipe, beginning with an overnight soak of dried beans. After six hours of simmering in molasses and brown sugar and an overnight rest, the North Country Smokehouse bacon flavor comes through like a rebel’s yell. (200 Stuart St., Boston)

Marliave
This French-meets-Italian restaurant in Downtown Crossing cooks Great White Northern beans, short ribs, and ham hocks in veal stock, adds molasses for sweetness and that iconic mahogany color, and serves up a side dish that takes center stage. (10 Bosworth St., Boston)


The Best New England Clam Chowder in Boston


It’s the middle of a sunny early-fall afternoon, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Downtown Boston is packed with folks walking to and from Chinatown, Faneuil Hall, the North End, and the Seaport. My fiancé and I are wading through the crowded greenway toward a clam chowder kiosk in the iconic Boston food hall Quincy Market—one of a dozen stops I’ll make over the next week as I attempt to find Boston’s best bowl of clam chowder.

I grew up near the coast, on Boston’s North Shore, which means I grew up eating more than my fair share of clam chowder. Some versions were thin some were thick. Sometimes the clams were tender and sweet and a little briny sometimes they were tough and hard to chew. My clam chowder–eating was perfunctory and instinctual, the routine behavior of a [serious voice] native New Englander. And it was anything but thoughtful.

That is, until I was asked to define just what exactly makes a good traditional New England clam chowder, and find the top takes on the dish in Boston.

When we arrive at the market, it’s elbow-to-elbow inside—the hall is packed with tourists and newly minted empty nesters whose children have, just hours before, matriculated to one of Boston’s many universities. My fiancé and I amble through the crowd and toward Boston Chowda Co., where diners can order a reasonably sized cup of clam chowder, or a fishbowl’s worth of the stuff, served in a hollowed-out boule. We order the smallest size and find a square foot of counter space to eat on.

The chowder is pleasantly thick and salty, spicy and clammy. The clams are plentiful and tender the potatoes are velvety, medium-sized chunks and the base is creamy without feeling like something you might put in your coffee. This is a perfectly good version of New England clam chowder. but is it traditional?