Red Clam Chowder

Sink your spoon into a beloved classic brimming with tangy sweet tomatoes and that briny kiss of the sea Red Clam Chowder brings to the soup bowl. This regional favorite might not get as much love as the thick, creamy, and luscious New England white clam chowder but is a delicious, and healthy alternative to celebrate the humble clam.

Clam Chowder Red Bliss Potatoes Recipe

While New England clam chowder reigns supreme around here, it is not the only fish in the sea. Clam soup comes in numerous versions and variations that celebrate both regional ingredients and also cultural influences. From Manhattan clam chowder with a not to New York Italian immigrants to the lesser-known Portuguese clam chowder of Massachusetts, even red chowder comes in different varieties.

What is Clam Chowder?

Clam chowder was introduced to North America by either French or Nova Scotian settlers. Its popularity grew during the 1700s and by 1836 it was being served in the oldest continually operating restaurant, Ye Olde Union Oyster House in Boston.

Besides generous bites of clams, what’s in clam chowder has similar ingredients even among different varieties. Onions or leeks are often joined by tender potatoes and occasionally bacon or salt pork. It is usually thickened with a roux but can also be thickened with crushed crackers. And never forget the mandatory side of saltines or oyster crackers.

Types of Clam Chowder

When it comes to clam chowder people might only think of the thick, creamy, and luscious New England white clam chowder, and Manhattan clam chowder, it’s sometimes misunderstood red clam chowder cousin. But did you know there are numerous other varieties?

Red Chowder Varieties

  • Rhode Island Clam Chowder – This is often referred to as clear clam chowder. It has a clear broth without any milk or cream. It’s also much brothier and more like a clam soup than a thick chowder. because it doesn’t have the richness of dairy, the salty, briny flavor of the clams can shine through. This is the perfect chowder to enjoy after a day out on the water.
  • Portuguese Clam Chowder – This is a type of red chowder. While it does contain tomatoes like a Manhattan clam chowder, it is thicker and a true celebration of the clams. Unlike other types of chowder where the clams are removed from the shells, the whole clams are steamed in the red sauce. You’ll find this chowder in areas of Massachusetts with rich Portuguese history like Fall River.
  • Long Island Clam Chowder – This is a newer chowder invention that combines New England clam chowder with Manhattan clam chowder for a distinctly pink dish.
  • Milky Maine Clam Chowder – Maine clam chowder has all of the same similar ingredients to a NE clam chowder, but without the addition of the roux. It is much brothier and usually only has a splash of milk instead of heavy cream. Many versions also call for soft shell clams.
  • North Carolina Clam Chowder This version is also referred to as Hatteras clam chowder. It’s also considered a clear clam chowder. What makes this clam chowder clear is the lack of roux. It’s incredibly chunky with generous bites of potatoes, celery, and occasionally carrots. Some
  • Minorcan Clam Chowder – Bring on a little kick of heat with this red clam chowder. This north Florida specialty utilizes the punch of datil peppers and the flavors of the Menorcan immigrants of St. Augustine. Other ingredients like bell peppers add depth to this tomato-based chowder.
  • West Coast Clam Chowder – Washington, Oregon, and California really on the flavors and texture of New England clam chowder while using clams more available to them like razor clams.

New England Clam Chowder vs Manhattan Clam Chowder

When you are looking for a clam soup recipe, you’ll probably come across two main versions, New England clam chowder and Manhattan clam chowder. While red clam chowder can be a little divisive, love it or despise it it’s firmly rooted in Americana.

Both red chowder and New England clam chowder have similar core ingredients like clam juice, potatoes, and often bacon. Unlike the thick, white creamy New England style clam chowder, Manhattan clam chowder is brothier and also more acidic, yet sweet with tomatoes. Garlic and the kick of crushed red pepper flakes give a nod to the Italian immigrants of NYC while also giving bold flavor. While James Beard famously called Manhattan clam chowder horrendous it’s none the less still loved by many.

How to Make Red Clam Chowder

  • Thoroughly clean your clams.
  • Next, add the clams to a pot with enough water to cover them, about four cups. Cover the pot with a lid and bring it to a boil. Allow it to boil until the clams have popped open, about 10-15 minutes. Discard any unopened clams.
  • Remove the clams from the shells. Strain the broth through a fine sieve lined with either cheese cloth or paper towels to remove any grit and sand.
  • Rinse out the pot and place it back on the stove along with the butter on medium heat. Add the bacon or salt pork and allow it to cook until the fat has rendered and it’s crispy. Remove it from the pot and allow it to drain on a paper towel lined plate.
  • Add the onions, celery, carrots, bell pepper, and garlic to the pot and allow them to cook until tender, making sure not to allow them to brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the potatoes and allow them to cook for a couple of minutes.
  • Add the reserved clam broth along with the thyme and bay leaf. Partially cover the pot and allow it to simmer until the potatoes are tender.
  • While the vegetables are simmering chop the reserved clams into smaller pieces, about the size of the chopped bacon.
  • Once the vegetables are tender stir in the tomatoes. Let them heat through before stirring in the clams and bacon. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Garnish with fresh parsley if desired.

Tips For Making Red Clam Chowder

  • Soup tastes even better the next day. This recipe from the New York Times encourages allowing it to sit and cure before reheating it and serving it.
  • If fresh clams aren’t available, canned clams can be used. The best canned clams for chowder should have minimal ingredients. Except for salt, avoid canned clams that have artificial flavors or preservatives. For the best canned clam chowder, you’ll also want to use clam juice in place of the homemade clam stock you get from cooking fresh clams.
  • If you want to keep this red clam chowder strictly pescatarian, omit the bacon or salt pork. You may need to add an extra pinch of salt to compensate.
  • Make sure you clean your clams well and strain your broth. Nothing can ruin a pot of red chowder faster than sand and grit.
  • Fresh herbs are best and will give the most depth of flavor. If possible, reach for fresh thyme instead of dried.

Health Benefits

For those looking to enjoy the briny flavor of the sea that clams offer up but are looking for a lighter option, red clam chowder can be a delicious and healthier option to its rich and creamy New England cousin. Not only is this healthy clam chowder lighter in calories and fat, but it’s also packed with nutrients from all of the vegetables including the lycopene and folate rich tomatoes.

If you’re wondering is clam chowder healthy for you, this lighter version absolutely is. Clams themselves are low in fat and calories while being high in protein, vitamin B-12, iron, and selenium. While cream-based chowders will also deliver on the health benefits of the clams, they’ll also be higher in fat and calories.

Red clam chowder is also a great option for those that might be dairy free or lactose intolerant. The small amount of butter used can easily be switched to olive oil or your favorite cooking oil or plant-based butter. Is clam chowder healthy? When it comes to red chowder, it’s a dish you can feel good about serving up to family and friends.

Storage Tips

Soup and chowders are the ultimate make ahead both for keeping in the refrigerator for meal prep throughout the week, and also freeze well. Not only can you freeze clam chowder, but it almost tastes better the second time around. Because there is no dairy in red clam chowder, not only is clam chowder good for you, but it also freezes better.

  • Allow the red clam chowder to cool completely before transferring it to an airtight container. Keep it refrigerated and it will last for up to five days. To reheat it simply add it to a pot on the stove over medium heat until warmed through.
  • To freeze the clam chowder allow it to cool completely before transferring it to freezer safe bags. Don’t forget to label them! The red clam soup will last for up to three months on the freezer. To defrost it, allow it to sit overnight in the refrigerator and then reheat it on the stove. Because of the starchiness of potatoes, they may break down slightly during reheating but will still be delicious.

Serving Suggestions

All clam chowder types can be a great starter to a meal or even a hearty lunch or main course. What to eat with clam chowder depends on the meal you have planned, how you plan on serving it, and the amount you are serving. Here are a few ideas on what goes with clam chowder.

  • Serve a cup of clam chowder alongside your broiled live lobster.
  • Clam chowder can be a great starter for grilled lobster tails.
  • Start of your lobster ravioli dinner with clam chowder.
  • Make sous vide lobster your main course with red clam chowder as a starter.
  • Keep your piggyback lobster tail dinner light and add a side of Manhattan clam chowder.
  • It doesn’t get any more classic than lobster rolls and clam chowder.
  • Add some turf to your surf with our Back Bay Seafood Surf & Turf which not only includes classic New England clam chowder but also cold water lobster tails and filet mignon.
  • What to serve with clam chowder can depend on the time of the day. There is nothing like the combination of soup and salad. Serve up your Manhattan clam chowder with an arugula or garden salad.
  • For a fun and impressive presentation, serve your red chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. This is also a great option for our lobster bisque.
  • Serve this with another classic appetizer, colossal shrimp cocktail.
  • Make it the ultimate seafood celebration and serve your clam chowder alongside bacon wrapped scallops.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it called red clam chowder?

Unlike a dairy based chowder, red clam chowder uses tomatoes giving it a distinct color.

Can I make red clam chowder without tomatoes?

No. You can make other types of chowder but not red clam chowder.

How do I thicken my clam chowder?

You can allow the chowder to simmer until it has slightly reduced. You can also use an immersion blender or blender to puree some of the soup.

Is red clam chowder safe for people with shellfish allergies?

No. Not only does it have clams in it but it also has clam juice.

Can I use fresh clams instead of canned clams for my chowder?

Yes. Fresh clams will give the best flavor and texture.

How can I make my clam chowder more flavorful?

Make it in advance and then allow it to cool before reheating it. The flavors will marry and deepen.

What are common mistakes to avoid when making clam chowder?

Hold off adding the clams until the end so they don’t become too tough. Make sure to clean your clams well and also strain the clam stock so it isn’t gritty.

How long can I store leftover clam chowder in the refrigerator and freezer?

Dairy based clam chowder will last up to three days refrigerated. Red clam chowder will last up to five days refrigerated. For the best results it’s not recommended to freeze dairy based chowder as the texture will change. Red clam chowder can be kept frozen for up to three months.


Red clam chowder like its New England relative is a great addition to any meal. It’s a great appetizer or meal unto itself. Because it doesn’t have dairy or a flour-based roux in it, it’s also a great option for those who are looking for a dairy free or gluten free dish. In addition, with its vegetable and tomato forward profile, it’s also and nutritious as it is delicious.

The New York Times Manhattan clam chowder recipe shared below is a great starting point to explore the world of red clam chowder, but have fun experimenting and adding your own favorite ingredients and flavors. Whether you’re using fresh clams or canned clams, spicing it up with red pepper flakes or keeping it mild, this vibrant chowder is a great addition to any meal.

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Clam Chowder with Red Bliss Potatoes

Manhattan Clam Chowder Recipe

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The acidity of tomatoes in this red chowder compliments the brininess of the clams while also offering up a sweet note. 

  • Total Time: 50
  • Yield: 6-8 1x


  • 24 top neck clams, rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ¼ pound slab bacon or salt pork, diced
  • 1 large Spanish onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 large ribs celery, cleaned and diced
  • 1 medium-size green pepper, diced
  • 2 medium-size carrots, peeled and diced
  • Red-pepper flakes, to taste
  • 3 large Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed or roughly diced
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ¼cup chopped parsley


  1. Put the clams in a large, heavy Dutch oven, add about 4 cups water, then set over medium-high heat. Cover, and cook until clams have opened, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. (Clams that fail to open after 15 to 20 minutes should be discarded.) Strain clam broth through a sieve lined with cheesecloth or doubled-up paper towels, and set aside. Remove clams from shells, and set those aside as well.
  2. Rinse out the pot, and return it to stove. Add butter, and turn heat to medium-low. Add bacon or salt pork, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat has rendered and the pork has started to brown, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove pork from fat, and set aside.
  3. Add onions, garlic, celery, green peppers and carrots to the fat, and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft but not brown, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in potatoes, and continue cooking until they have just started to soften, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Add 4 cups of clam broth, reserving the rest for another use. Add the sprigs of thyme and the bay leaf.
  4. Partly cover the pot, and simmer gently until potatoes are tender, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Using the back of a wooden spoon, smash a few potatoes against the side of the pot to release their starch and help thicken the broth.
  5. Meanwhile, chop the clams into bits that are about the size of the bacon dice.
  6. When potatoes are tender, stir in tomatoes, and heat them through. Add chopped clams and reserved bacon, stirring to combine. Add black pepper to taste. Let chowder come to a simmer, and remove from heat. Fish out the thyme and the bay leaf, and discard.
  7. The chowder should be allowed to sit for a while to cure. Reheat it before serving, then garnish with chopped parsley. Serve with oyster crackers.
  • Author: Lobster Louie
  • Prep Time: 15
  • Cook Time: 45
  • Category: Soup
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: American

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