So many seafood chowder recipes, so little time! If you’re like me, you know there’s not much better in this world than a soothing bowl of seafood chowder. Creamy, rich, nourishing, and briny; if you’re a seafood lover, what’s not to like?
Of course, that’s a rhetorical question but only if made the right way. Because let me tell you there are a shizzle ton of average-tasting seafood chowder recipes out there that call for ingredients like chicken stock, poor-quality store-bought stocks, or God forbid, the ingredient that always makes eyes roll… canned clams. Ugh!
Here at Fearless Eating, I share only the best seafood chowder recipes, made from real seafood stocks and broths, and with fresh, good-quality seafood. Included below are 12 of my best seafood chowder recipes, one recipe for making your own seafood chowder, and some basic tips for how to make consistently fantastic seafood chowder.
All of the chowder recipes come from my cookbook, New England Soups from the Sea, which includes not just an extensive chapter on chowder but also chapters for broths, bisques, stews, medleys, and boils. Of course, everyone knows the iconic New England clam chowder but there are dozens more chowder possibilities, few of which you’ll ever find on restaurant menus. Let’s get started!
From Rhode Island to Maine—Get 80 locally inspired recipes that honor the traditions of America’s northeast.
I’ve organized the recipes into 5 categories – clam chowders, fish chowders, shellfish chowders, a simple formula for making your own seafood chowder, and finally, some seafood chowder tips.
Did you know there are many types of clam chowder? Most people can only name one or two. But different regional styles have developed over time. The following 6 clam chowder recipes are ordered from the most well-known to the least well-known. I know you know the first one! It is the ultimate seafood chowder recipe.
The one, the only, the ultimate New England seafood chowder recipe and New England’s most iconic dish… New England clam chowder. It is sometimes referred to as a white clam chowder (to differentiate it from the tomato-based red clam chowders) or a Boston clam chowder.
It is the ultimate cold-weather comfort food, hearty and nourishing. Most recipes are thickened with a roux and include the standard ingredients of clams, onions, potatoes, cream, and bacon (or salt pork). That said, many recipes use poor-quality ingredients like canned clams and lousy store-bought broths. They also tend to be over-thickened and sludgy.
But when you use fresh quahog clams and steam them yourself to make the broth, you allow the ocean-fresh aromas and flavors to work their magic. This salty, pungent elixir is as far as I’m concerned, the heart and soul of clam chowder. And with just a little thickening, you can create a nice texture that doesn’t obscure the very essence of the broth.
Find the recipe here —> Authentic New England Clam Chowder
Though more associated with New York, Manhattan clam chowder is a staple on menus in southern New England along the Connecticut coast and into Rhode Island. Also called a red chowder because it’s tomato-based, it often includes vegetables such as carrots, celery, and green peppers, and spices such as oregano, basil, and thyme.
Most northern New Englands consider tomatoes anathema to chowder, but tomato-based seafood chowder recipes can make a dang good chowder too! I admit I’ve never really liked Manhattan clam chowder. Most versions taste more like a boring vegetable tomato soup with very little clam flavor.
For that reason, my version is a little different. I really wanted to emphasize the natural symmetry of clams and tomatoes. So I cut out most of the vegetables. I also add some tomato paste for a slightly richer tomato flavor. This stripped-down interpretation may be unusual, but to be quite honest, it’s the best version I’ve ever had.
Find the recipe here —> Manhattan Clam Chowder
Also called a clear broth chowder, Rhode Island clam chowder is a popular southern New England chowder recipe. Its defining feature is that it’s dairy-free and thus a clear broth. Otherwise, the ingredients are almost identical to a New England clam chowder. However, without the cream to tame the flavor of the clam broth, it has a stronger flavor. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just as fantastic as white or red chowders. The only people who tend to disagree are residents of the Ocean State, who proudly proclaim their chowder the best of them all.
Get the recipe here —> Rhode Island Clam Chowder
This northern regional chowder style is defined by a milk base instead of cream. It’s never thickened with flour and thus has a thinner overall consistency. Maine clam chowder recipes also often include soft shell clams instead of hard shell clams. Soft-shell clams (also called steamers) are a little sweeter and their broth is less briny than hardshell clams. They give chowder recipes a subtly unique character, less intense than New England and Rhode Island clam chowders, but just as nourishing and delicious!
Find the recipe here —> Maine Clam Chowder
Spicy, smoky, rich, and piquant, Portuguese clam chowder is a somewhat rare chowder recipe that comes from the Portuguese communities on the south coast of New England. It’s also a tomato-based red seafood chowder but it’s completely different from a Manhattan clam chowder. It includes chourico, the classic Portuguese spiced sausage, as well as red pepper flakes, green peppers, and littleneck clams.
It is one of my favorite chowder recipes, just a perfect fusion of Portuguese cuisine with New England cuisine. It might sound strange for a chowder recipe, but it’s just one of those dishes you have to try yourself. I promise with all my heart and soul you’ll absolutely love it.
Get the recipe here —> Portuguese Clam Chowder
This one is the most unique of all chowder recipes. Even rarer than Portuguese clam chowder. That’s because it doesn’t really exist in Connecticut. But it should!
The origins of this chowder recipe are on Long Island where some establishments simply add a scoop or two of white New England clam chowder with red Manhattan clam chowder. The result is a pink chowder. I know, weird right? I’ve tried it and in my opinion, it’s a gimmicky thing and not very good.
But made from scratch, it’s surprisingly delicious. In my cookbook, I renamed it to a Connecticut Clam Chowder because I felt it captured the spirit of Connecticut much more so than Long Island.
Get the recipe here —> Connecticut Clam Chowder
Fish chowder recipes actually pre-date clam chowder recipes and were the first types of chowders back in the colonial days. They are the original seafood chowder recipes! The three recipes below encompass a nice range of fish chowders, though they’re just the tip of the iceberg. The first utilizes any lean, mild whitefish. The second utilizes a more full-flavored fatty fish. And the last utilizes smoked fish. All three are fantastic in their own way!
Back in the days when the cod family was the backbone of New England’s fishing economy, it was also the backbone of most fish chowder recipes. As chowder’s popularity spread, so did the inclusion of other types of fish though cod and haddock are still the most common choices today. They certainly make great fish chowders but any type of lean, mild whitefish is perfectly suitable for this recipe. Try to use an undervalued whitefish species, if possible. Black sea bass, hake, and monkfish make sublime fish chowders too!
Get the recipe here —> Classic New England Fish Chowder
Bluefish are highly active, voracious predators that are native to the US east coast. This high activity also means they have a high oil content which means they’re rich and flavorful when they’re in season from late spring through Fall. They make a luscious chowder. If you can’t find bluefish in markets near you, substitute any full-flavored fish such as swordfish or wild salmon.
Get the recipe here —> Bluefish Chowder
Yes, that picture of Smoked Chowder might look a little odd. It includes a poached egg. Unusual? Yes. Delicious? Also yes! Smoked fish, however, is not unusual in chowders. It has a unique and strong taste and makes for an unmistakable but still magnificent bowl of chowder.
Not all seafood markets carry smoked haddock but you might also find Finnan haddie, a popular method of lightly smoking haddock that originated in Scotland. Other types of smoked fish are suitable substitutes. You might also check with your local fishmonger, some of whom specialize in smoking their own fish such as bluefish or mackerel.
Get the recipe here —> Smoked Haddock Chowder
Some of the best seafood chowder recipes are made with shellfish other than clams. In fact, any type of shellfish can be made into chowder. In my cookbook, I even include a squid chowder!
Shellfish chowder recipes present opportunities to get a little more creative. They haven’t been as standardized as more conventional clam and fish chowders. Those with preconceived notions of what chowder is (typically the style of chowder they grew up with) may be more receptive to trying something new. They also present opportunities to make different homemade seafood stocks as many types of shellfish make divine stocks in their own right.
Shrimp corn chowder may be more popular but if lobsters were as cheap and widely available as shrimp, I have no doubt lobster chowder would be New England’s most iconic dish. Juicy lobster chunks and hearty vegetables swimming in a creamy lobstery base enhanced with lobster broth, white wine, fennel, fresh corn, and fresh herbs is the most delicious lobstery thing I’ve ever tasted. It is perhaps my favorite seafood chowder recipe of them all.
Get the recipe here —> Lobster Corn Chowder
Mussels are highly underappreciated and underutilized in seafood chowder recipes. They are abundant, affordable, flavorful, and just as suitable to chowder as clams. In this recipe, I include fennel which better complements the subtle sweetness of mussels and their more subdued broth compared to clams.
This recipe is pretty simple and straightforward. I wanted that anise flavor to really shine through so I didn’t add much else beyond the standard chowder ingredients. But you could certainly experiment and add additional herbs, a touch of white wine, or even other vegetables.
Get the recipe here —> Mussel Chowder
Scallop chowders are one of the few seafood chowder recipes that can’t be made with their own broth for somewhat obvious reasons. Scallops do not make their own broth. No matter, good clam broth, is an ideal choice.
Sweet, juicy scallops can make some truly heavenly chowder. Large sea scallops or the smaller and sweeter bay scallops are equally good. Both have a tender, buttery texture that can be a nice alternative to conventional clam chowders.
In this unique recipe, I tried an unusual ingredient for seafood chowders. And it worked beautifully.
Get the recipe here —> Scallop Chowder
I have no idea what type of seafood chowder is in the above picture. I improvised it many years ago. All I remember was that it was incredible. I think it had some shrimp, scallops, fish, tomatoes, paprika, and linguica (a mild Portuguese sausage). Improvising your own recipe is a lot of fun! Chowder is not complicated. It’s a rustic dish, originally created by fishermen.
Most chowder recipes follow a very similar formula. In just a handful of easy steps, I’ll show you how you can make your own seafood chowder recipes, including those with multiple types of seafood.
For example, you could make Scallops and Shrimp Chowder or Fish and Mussels Chowder. You could even make a fish chowder with multiple types of fish. In particular, pairing a lean mild whitefish with an oily full-flavored fish gives some nice contrasting flavors and textures. Basically, the sky is the limit!
Here is the basic formula for a chowder made in the style of cream-based white New England clam chowder. Ingredient amounts are for an approximate serving size of 5 to 6 people. See below the recipe for three options for thickening.
In a medium to large-sized stockpot, heat 4 strips of bacon over medium heat until a few tablespoons of the fat renders out. Remove the bacon and set it aside.
Try to find fattier strips of bacon or slab bacon. Meatier strips won’t render out enough fat. Another choice besides bacon is salt pork. See the info about salt pork in part V below.
Add a diced onion, 4 to 5 sprigs of fresh thyme, and one bay leaf to the bacon fat and saute for about five minutes until softened and fragrant.
Add a few tablespoons of butter, if necessary for additional cooking fat.
Other optional vegetable choices are celery, leeks, fennel, green or red pepper, carrots, and garlic. Let your intuition guide you on what to add.
Other optional herb choices are rosemary and savory. Personally, I always love fresh thyme and a bay leaf. Also, keep in mind that dried aromatic herbs are more potent than fresh herbs. Use about half the amount of dried herbs compared to fresh ones.
Add 1 quart of seafood stock or broth. Raise the heat to a gentle boil.
All of the recipe links above detail how to make homemade seafood stocks/broths as well as the best options for store-bought seafood stocks and broths too.
Add 1 to 1.5 pounds of diced potatoes. Dice them any way you want – roughly, neatly, into small cubes, large cubes, weird shapes, it doesn’t matter. It’s just chowder.
Cover the pot, reduce heat slightly, and boil for about 10 to 12 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through.
Potatoes add body, thickness, and their own subtle flavors to chowder. The best varieties are those that will hold their shape after cooking and retain a firm but tender texture. Waxy, medium starch potatoes such as Yukon gold, new or red potatoes are your best choice.
Add any combination of fish and shellfish (de-shelled), about 1.5 to 2 pounds total.
Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes or until cooked through.
Add 1 cup of heavy cream (or half and half) and stir in. Taste and add additional cream, up to one more cup, if desired.
Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Add any additional garnishes and seasonings, to taste, such as fresh chives, parsley, bacon bits, Old Bay seasoning, a dash of cayenne or hot sauce, and oyster crackers.
Other seasonings for more creative seafood chowder recipes include basil, tarragon, dill, cilantro, paprika, and lemon juice.
I didn’t include a thickener because this is very much a personal choice. Though it’s become standard, you don’t have to thicken your chowder recipes. There are also some good options if you’re gluten-free. Here are three options to choose from:
Pros: No extra cooking steps, a brothy consistency if you prefer that
Cons: Not a silky smooth texture or appearance, a brothy consistency if you don’t prefer that
Many old-school chowder makers insist that thickeners, no matter how much, will ruin a chowder. I don’t agree but I do agree that there is absolutely nothing wrong with not adding a thickener. Your chowder will have a brothier consistency compared to thickened chowders of course, even if you use heavy cream.
If you’d like to slightly thicken a chowder without adding thickeners, you can use the potatoes. Once cooked, simply mash some on the side of the pot and stir in. This will create a slightly grainier texture compared to a flour-based thickener.
Pros: Silky smooth texture, all-purpose gluten-free flours work well
Cons: Can easily obscure flavor if overdone
A roux is simply equal parts cooking fat (often butter) and flour that are whisked together over medium-low heat for at least a few minutes until it bubbles and coagulates. This process removes the raw, pasty taste of the flour and then it’s added to a soup (or sauce) which thickens it. A roux also binds the fat and water molecules and creates that silky smooth texture and appearance which so many people crave in chowder.
There are two ways to add a roux to a chowder. You can make the roux in a separate pan and then add it once the potatoes are cooked through, stirring it in slowly until your desired thickening is achieved. Or you can add the flour right in with the onions and cooking fat and make the roux in the main pot. You will have to add additional butter with the flour here.
For a 5 to 6-person serving size, a roux of 4 tablespoons of flour and 4 tablespoons of butter should suffice.
Pros: No additional fat is needed, very simple, great gluten-free option
Cons: Not quite the lusciously smooth texture of flour but close!
A slurry is simply a mix of equal parts starch, typically corn starch or potato starch, and cold water that is whisked together. It’s then drizzled into a hot soup and stirred for a few minutes until the soup thickens.
In the case of chowder, I recommend potato starch. It has a very neutral flavor and doesn’t overly gel like cornstarch can sometimes. Potato starch doesn’t quite create the perfect silky smooth consistency as white flour but it’s close!
To make a slurry, add a few tablespoons of potato starch to a few tablespoons of water and whisk it together. Drizzle it into the chowder once the potatoes are cooked, stirring gently for at least a few minutes until you reach your desired consistency.
Despite the many differences in chowder recipes and styles, there are some things that most chowder enthusiasts agree upon. By following these tips and notes, no matter what seafood chowder recipe you make, you’re almost guaranteed to have amazing results.
If possible, try to pair your seafood with its respective stock/broth. So for fish chowders, choose fish stock. For clam chowders, choose clam broth, and so on.
I know this isn’t always possible though. Just know that seafood stocks and broths are interchangeable in any seafood chowder recipe. Good quality store-bought clam broth or fish broth is always a better choice than water or chicken stock.
Remember, the briny essence of the sea, best captured in a well-made seafood stock/broth is the defining element of most seafood chowder recipes.
Seafood labels and even seafood guides often make purchasing sustainable seafood more confusing than it should be. The answer is quite simple.
Buy American seafood.
This should be obvious but unfortunately, many people go to their seafood markets and purchase cheap seafood caught halfway around the world. It’s estimated that 90% of all seafood in America is imported.
But did you know the United States has some of the most well-managed fisheries in the world? It’s true. When you purchase American seafood, you’re purchasing seafood that is studied and monitored by scientists and regulated by government agencies (both federal and state) to make sure stocks are sustainable. You’re also supporting local fishermen who fish under strict quotas to ensure the future viability of our native seafood.
So for all these seafood chowder recipes, when you go to your seafood markets, look at the country of origin labels and try to support American fishermen. If it doesn’t have a country of origin label, ask the fishmonger. Good quality, fresh seafood will make your chowder taste better too!
Except for where it’s called for, always use heavy cream instead of milk in your seafood chowder recipes. The flavor will be far superior, fuller, and richer. The fat content of whole milk is too thin for chowder, especially modern conventional brands.
In the 1967 gem of a little “book” (more like an in-depth pamphlet), Clam Shack Cookery, a collection of old Cape Cod recipes, fisherman Captain Phil Schwind says this about milk…
For the benefit of those who can’t remember back before milk came in cardboard or plastic containers, all pasteurized, homogenized and preserved, there was a time when milk came in round, glass ‘milk bottles’, and if allowed to set, the cream would rise to the top of the bottle. This ‘top’ milk, nearly cream, was what my grandma was referring to when she spoke of ‘whole’ milk. The rest, the skim milk she used to feed our cat, Old Tiger.
He’s referring to cream here and throughout the book asks the reader to use “rich milk” in many of the recipes. Rich milk, along with good quality stocks and broths are the two pillars for making really superb-tasting seafood chowder.
The next best choice is half and half. Half and half is a closer approximation to rich, traditional whole milk.
This may sound strange but when your chowder is done, it’s really not done. You can certainly consume it right away. It will taste good. But not as good as it can be. It’s better to wait at least a few hours and even better still, a full day, because as the chowder sits, all the flavors meld and improve over time. This is known as aging or curing chowder.
In the Long Island Seafood Cookbook, published in 1939, George Frederick writes:
To eat a chowder within a few hours after making it — or even on the same day it was made — sounds like sacrilege to the old men of the chowder pots of Long Island. They were Long Island’s praetorian gourmet guards, who snorted like whales when an hour-long chowder was offered them.
This advice may be a little extreme (nor do I know what “praetorian” means). Personally, I never have the patience to wait until the next day to eat my homemade chowder! But I always make big enough portions so that I’ll have leftovers. Chowder is one of the few dishes where leftovers always taste better!
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.