We cover almost all types of cuisine here at Miss Buttercup, but it’s not often that an exclusively American one gets the spotlight.
But that’s exactly what’s happening in this article where we’ll be discussing all the different varieties of clam chowder you can try.
For anyone who loves this warm and inviting seafood soup, there’s really no substitute for it, no matter the style.
It’s widely thought that it originated in the Northeastern United States because clam populations were abundant, which made them easy to harvest.
Over time, the original recipes for clam chowder spread across the country and, with it, the inevitable changes to suit local tastes.
Not surprisingly, these differences have given rise to fierce loyalties with chowder lovers everywhere, each claiming that their local chowder deserves to be called “authentic”.
Luckily for us, we’re not here to give opinions about which clam chowder is the best. Instead, we’re happy to leave picking favorites up to the palates (and stomachs) of readers like you.
No matter what your particular favorite might be, there’s no denying that clam chowder is a great start to any meal or as a meal on its own!
To make things a little easier, we’ve broken our lists down by national and regional (or local) styles.
So, if you’re ready, prepare yourself for a culinary catalog of coast-to-coast clam chowder creations!
Table of Contents
- Nationwide Styles of Clam Chowder
- Local and Regional Styles of Clam Chowder
Nationwide Styles of Clam Chowder
Due to their widespread popularity, the chances are pretty good you’ll be able to find one or more of these types of clam chowder near you.
New England (Boston) Clam Chowder
Of all styles of clam chowder, variations of the New England (or Boston) style are probably the one most people think of when they hear the term “clam chowder”.
It’s often quite thick thanks to the inclusion of flour and the use of cream (or milk) as a base. This results in a soup that is very creamy and white, or off white, in appearance.
Interestingly, even though New England style is considered the thickest of all clam chowders, it didn’t originally use flour to achieve it. Instead, a very basic type of cracker that contained flour, known as hardtack, was crushed and used as a thickening agent.
Although hardtack is no longer used today, many chowder lovers still add crushed saltines or oyster crackers to their soup to add extra layers of thickness.
Ingredients in New England (Boston) clam chowder can include clams, milk, cream, butter, onion, potatoes, salt, and flour. Recipe variations may include bacon, celery, carrots, salt pork, and fresh garlic.
Manhattan Clam Chowder
While it might not be as widely recognized as its creamier cousin, Manhattan clam chowder is every bit as popular and well-loved. Most Manhattan chowder recipes also feature the addition of vegetables like carrots and celery, along with potatoes.
Manhattan style doesn’t use milk, cream or flour, which makes results in a slightly thinner consistency. Varying the amounts of tomatoes used in the recipe can result in a thicker chowder if desired.
There are many theories about the evolution of Manhattan clam chowder, the most popular being when it was first mentioned in a cookbook called “Soups and Sauces”, published Virginia Elliot and Robert Jones in 1934.
However, there’s been speculation that early versions of the chowder originated with Portuguese immigrants who counted large fishing communities among their ranks.
In fact, there’s strong evidence of Manhattan style chowder recipes appearing in print nearly 50 years prior to Elliot and Jones’ work. This passage didn’t appear in a book but in an 1887 edition of The Buffalo Times, which mentioned it being served at a local establishment.
In that same year, a cookbook by Sarah Grier entitled, “A Few Hints about Cooking”, also mentioned clam chowder that used tomatoes as an ingredient.
However it came to be, Manhattan clam chowder lovers are indeed grateful!
Ingredients in Manhattan clam chowder can include clams, olive oil, carrots, bacon, tomatoes (crushed, strained or canned), potatoes, garlic, thyme, celery, salt and pepper.
Rhode Island Clam Chowder
Rhode Island clam chowder distinguishes itself from both Manhattan and New England by using a clear broth. This is in contrast to the New England style, which features a creamy broth or Manhattan which is red thanks to its use of tomatoes.
Instead, Rhode Island clam chowder, which is also sometimes called “South County Style”, has few ingredients, especially when compared to Manhattan style. However, Rhode Island does have one red chowder, known as Rocky Point Red, that uses tomatoes.
It should be noted that instead of crushed (or canned) tomatoes, it uses tomato paste or puree.
Ingredients in Rhode Island clam chowder can include clams, butter, bacon or salt pork, celery, onion, potatoes, thyme, bay leaf, salt, pepper and tomato paste/puree (for red style).
Long Island Clam Chowder
Most think of Long Island clam chowder as a mix between New England and Manhattan style.
When the creaminess of the first is combined with the tomato base of the latter, the result is what you might expect – a pinkish (and creamy) chowder that’s to die for.
Although it’s a very popular type of chowder, it’s name is thought to be at least partially humorous. Since Long Island is roughly between New England and Manhattan, early purveyors of the blend were quick to capitalize on the geographic coincidence.
Local and Regional Styles of Clam Chowder
The clam chowders in this list represent varieties you’re more likely to find in particular regions around the United States.
San Francisco Clam Chowder
What makes San Francisco clam chowder unique is not the ingredients in the chowder – it’s the same ingredients found in New England style but rather how it’s served – in a sourdough bread bowl!
Even though it doesn’t originate in San Fran, sourdough bread is associated with the city the minds of many and really, what could be a better way to finish off a helping of piping hot chowder than eating the bowl it was served in?
Ingredients in San Francisco clam chowder can include flour, clams, cream, onion, potatoes, salt, milk, butter and sourdough bread.
Minorcan Clam Chowder
Minorcan clam chowder is the one and only variation coming out of the State of Florida.
It’s notable for its spicy flavor, thanks to the use of the Datil pepper, and its storied history, courtesy of colonists, who later discovered they were basically indentured servants, from the Spanish island of Minorca, its namesake.
After a perilous trip across the Atlantic, the Minorcans were put to work on plantations which harvested indigo, hemp and sugarcane. After toiling there for nearly a decade, the Minorcan immigrants were eventually freed and settled in the area. As they did, their cooking customs, which included their clam chowder, flourished.
Minorcan clam chowder is red in appearance thanks to a tomato base, making it similar to Manhattan style. However, all resemblance to any other type of clam chowder ends once you add in the fiery Datil pepper, which is grown in the area most associated with Minorcans, St. Augustine.
Ingredients in Minorcan clam chowder can include Datil peppers, clams, onions, bell peppers, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, tomato paste, clam juice, garlic, oregano, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, salt pork and salt.
Hatteras Clam Chowder
The origins of Hatteras style chowder are not exactly known, but it’s estimated that variations of it have existed for two hundred years or more.
Unlike the thick chowders along the Northeastern coast, residents of Cape Hatteras, South Carolina lacked the rich pasture land needed for productive dairy farming. In addition to a lack of dairy ingredients, the soils in the region weren’t ideal for producing tomatoes either.
Whatever disadvantages residents of the area faced with regards to dairy and tomatoes, they more than made up for with abundant populations of clams and bumper crops of potatoes and onions.
So, as you might expect, Hatteras clam chowder is a reflection of what locals had on hand. The result is a clear, broth-based chowder that is extremely simple to make since it only uses a handful of ingredients.
But don’t let the simplicity fool you. Many believe this is one of the best clam chowder varieties anywhere!
Ingredients in Hatteras clam chowder can include clams, onion, potatoes, salt, and bacon.
Maine Clam Chowder
While it has a similar appearance to New England clam chowder, Maine clam chowder has two main differences. The first is that flour isn’t used as a thickening agent and also uses milk exclusively (as opposed to cream).
The result is a chowder that’s thinner on the palate without being too watery. In addition, most variations of Maine clam chowder are still chock full of ingredients, so while it might be lighter, it’s still plenty filling.
Ingredients in Maine clam chowder can include clams, milk, cream, butter, onion, potatoes, thyme, bay leaf and salt.
Connecticut Clam Chowder
One of the earliest mentioned types of clam chowder was Connecticut clam chowder, or just “Connecticut Chowder”, as they originally termed it.
Several cookbooks from the mid-1800s including, The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Child (1832) and The Frugal Housekeeper by Eliza Wheeler (1847) both made mention of early versions of Connecticut chowder which featured a few simple ingredients like crackers (likely hardtack), onions and clams.
As time as tastes evolved, so too did the early versions of Connecticut clam chowder. Today, what passes for Connecticut style could just as easily be considered Rhode Island style.
Ingredients in Connecticut clam chowder can include clams, salt pork, celery, potatoes, bay leaf, thyme, onion, salt and pepper.
Portuguese Clam Chowder
This tantalizing version of clam chowder puts a unique cultural twist on the humble clam chowder.
Similar to the way in which Minorcan clam chowder makes use of the Datil pepper, Portuguese clam chowder embraces ingredients like paprika, Madeira and spicy linguica sausage, which gives it a taste unlike any chowder you’ve ever experienced.
It’s thought that early Portuguese fishing populations that inhabited the area around what is Manhattan today were at least partially responsible for the popular Manhattan style that is loved by so many.
Indeed, it also features a tomato base, which certainly makes it very similar, but with such flair, it’s hard to classify it as anything else!
Ingredients in Portuguese clam chowder can include clams, olive oil, paprika, linguica sausage, red wine vinegar, fennel, tomato paste, Madeira, tomatoes, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper.
Hiya! I’m Kimberly, a contributing writer here at Miss Buttercup. I was born and raised in the UP, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for those who don’t know, the land of beautiful, beach-filled sunny summer days and bone-chilling long winters. Growing up there made me appreciate all the little things about life, especially the way a delicious meal can bring people closer together. I try and put that same feeling into each article I write and I hope it comes across that way!