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Portuguese Clam Chowder: New England’s Best-Kept Chowder Secret

Chowders

In pockets around New England, there exists a Portuguese clam chowder that bears little resemblance to the more popular and famous Manhattan clam chowder.

I consider it New England’s best-kept chowder secret. Few people are aware of it and yet this little-known chowder is actually native to New England. It’s also tomato-based. This may be shocking to most New Englanders who abhor tomatoes in chowder.

Portuguese Clam Chowder

An Ultra-Brief History of Portuguese Clam Chowder

Portuguese immigrants came to New England in large numbers in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Most settled along the south coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island where they found work in the fishing industry. Portuguese staples like tomatoes, onions, garlic, spicy peppers, and spices like cumin and paprika were integrated with local seafood. Traditional seafood soups and stews took on new twists such as Shrimp Mozambique, Portuguese squid stew, and Portuguese clam stew.

In fact, it’s suggested that Portuguese clam chowder was the precursor to Manhattan clam chowder as tomatoes started showing up in chowder recipes in Rhode Island and Connecticut in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Though tomatoes in chowder mostly faded away in New England in the second half of the 20th century, it’s thought that they found a more welcoming home in the New York area where it eventually became the standardized dish we know today as Manhattan clam chowder

More Chowder Recipes to Try

A Newfound Appreciation 

Regardless of the murky history, here’s what I can say without a doubt: Portuguese clam chowder is one of the most fantastic seafood chowder recipes I’ve ever tasted! It’s included in my new cookbook, New England Soups from the Sea, along with 17 other New England-style chowders.

seafood cookbook imagery

Available Now!

From Rhode Island to Maine—Get 80 locally inspired recipes that honor the traditions of America’s northeast.

Compared to Manhattan clam chowder, it’s more piquant, richer, smoky, and spicy with whole littleneck clams that infuse the tomato base with a salty sea essence. Personally, I think it’s about a thousand times more delicious than Manhattan clam chowders which are often diluted by too many vegetables and not enough clams, especially fresh clams.  

I don’t care what side of the chowder debate you’re on, red or white, you gotta try it to believe it. Your whole perception of chowder will be blown wide open, especially if you think red chowders are inferior to white. I promise you’ll have a newfound appreciation for red chowders. You’ll also probably wonder, as do I, how something this good has remained in relative obscurity for so long. 

How to Make a Portuguese Clam Chowder

The beauty of Portuguese clam chowder is that you have to make it yourself. Maybe that’s why it’s such a secret as very few restaurants serve it. But it’s not hard because it’s chowder and the essence of chowder is that it’s a simple rustic dish, originally created by fishermen. 

The full recipe is below but I can summarize how easy it is in four steps with four pictures.

1. Saute veggies and Portuguese sausage in olive oil

First, you’re going to saute some onion, green pepper, garlic, and either chourico (pronounced chor-REES) or linguica sausage in olive oil for about 5 to 7 minutes. Chourico and linguica are pre-cooked, dried, and smoked sausages.

The main difference is that chourico is spicier than linguica. Both may be hard to find in conventional supermarkets. Chorizo, a similar Spanish-style sausage, or even andouille are suitable replacements. I used BOTH linguica and chourico. The darker color sausage is the chourico.  

simmering the veggies and sausage

2. Add spices, herbs and tomato paste

Spices and herbs include fennel seeds, bay leaf, fresh thyme, paprika, and red pepper flakes. Saute everything for a further 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. 

adding the tomato paste

3. Add canned tomatoes and then littleneck clams.

Next, you’ll add some canned tomatoes and simmer everything for about another 10 minutes to amalgamate the flavors. 

Then you’ll add your littleneck clams.  

adding the littleneck clams

4. Cover and simmer

Cover the pan and simmer everything over medium heat for about 7 to 10 minutes or until the clams open. The liquid inside the clams (aka clam juice, clam liquor, or clam broth) will infuse the tomato base creating a quintessential briny clam chowder flavor.

clams simmering and opening for a Portuguese clam chowder

That’s pretty much it! I love finishing it off with some fresh tarragon and some apple cider vinegar for an even more bodacious flavor. Parsley or cilantro is great to use too as is red wine vinegar. And if you like things extra spicy, add any hot sauce of your choice and/or additional hot red pepper flakes. 

If you love chowder and/or Portuguese cuisine, you’ll find plenty more in New England Soups from the Sea. The chowder chapter contains 18 chowder recipes.

You’ll also find chapters on stews, bisques, clam boils, and more. Approximately 20% of the 80 total recipes are Portuguese in honor of the longstanding Portuguese communities on the southern coast of New England.

seafood cookbook imagery

Available Now!

From Rhode Island to Maine—Get 80 locally inspired recipes that honor the traditions of America’s northeast.

Finally, if you make this recipe, I’d LOVE to hear about your experience in the comments. Even better, if you’re of Portuguese descent, I’d love to hear about your experience with this dish. Did your mother or grandmother make it when you were a kid? How did they make it that was different? Do you know of any restaurants that serve it? Any and all input is appreciated!

Kitchen Tools You’ll Need

Portuguese Clam Chowder Full Recipe

Portuguese Clam Chowder

Portuguese Clam Chowder

Little known outside New England, a Portuguese clam chowder is a spicy, rich, tomato-based chowder.
Print Recipe Pin Recipe
CourseMain Course
CuisinePortuguese
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time30 minutes
Total Time45 minutes
Servings4 servings
Calories203kcal
AuthorCraig Fear
Cost$30

Ingredients

Optional seasonings, to taste

Instructions

  • Warm olive oil in large heavy bottom stock pot. Add onion, green pepper and sausage and saute until veggies are softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic in the last minute.
  • Add spices and saute another 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.
  • Add tomato paste and saute another 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.
  • Add canned tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes.
  • Add the clams, cover and simmer until all the shells open, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add additional clam broth, if necessary.
  • Add vinegar and tarragon and stir in.
  • Ladle into individual bowls and add optional seasonings, to taste.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 203kcal | Carbohydrates: 15g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Cholesterol: 1mg | Sodium: 85mg | Potassium: 638mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 1183IU | Vitamin C: 46mg | Calcium: 177mg | Iron: 5mg
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Portuguese Clam Chowder: New England\'s Best-Kept Chowder Secret
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About the Author

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.

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