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Down East Clam Chowder

Down East Clam Chowder
38 votes, 3.71 avg. rating (74% score)
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Yield: 4 to 6 servings

The best way to make this Down East Clam Chowder is with clams you have dug yourself after dropping anchor in a secluded bay, but it is awfully good with fresh clams purchased at a local marina. This is authentic Maine chowder -- the kind you thicken with crackers, not flour.

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clam chowder
Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch


  • 4 dozen hard-shell clams, scrubbed, or 1 quart shucked cooked clams with their broth
  • 1/4 pound cubed salt pork or 6 slices bacon
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups half-and-half or evaporated milk
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper


Pour clams into a large pot with 1 cup water. Cover, bring to a boil, and cook until shells open, about 10 minutes. Allow to cool, then shuck clams and set aside. Pour off broth and reserve, taking care not to disturb any sediment in the bottom of the pan.

Cook salt pork in a large saucepan over medium heat until the fat runs. Add onion and cook, stirring, until tender. Pour off half the fat.

Add potatoes to the pan and stir well. Add clam broth and just enough water to cover the potatoes. Simmer until potatoes are tender.

Add milk and half-and-half (or evaporated milk); bring to a simmer. Add clams and butter; simmer a few minutes until clams are heated through and butter is melted. (Do not boil or clams will be tough.) Season with salt and pepper.
Updated Sunday, February 1st, 2015

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15 Responses to Down East Clam Chowder

  1. Betty Estes February 2, 2015 at 4:59 pm #

    How does this make it thick? Mine never is and I’ve tried many different recipes :(

    • Brenda Darroch February 2, 2015 at 5:24 pm #

      This is not a thick chowder, Betty.

    • Pam Murphy February 2, 2015 at 6:25 pm #

      You could add Wonder to thicken and no lumps

      • Mona Longley January 5, 2016 at 6:08 pm #

        Add 1 Cup of dried potato flakes with the clam juice before adding evaporated milk.
        Chowder is best served next day. I prefer to eat my crackers in hand not in the chowder.
        [soggy crackers are a no-no]

  2. Jo Ann February 2, 2015 at 6:17 pm #

    you could use a roux.

  3. Steven February 3, 2015 at 7:10 am #

    The only way to thicken this recipe would be to add 1- 8 once package of cream cheese at the end of cooking.. Also be sure to breakdown some of the potatoes to thicken it too.

  4. jeann February 3, 2015 at 7:18 am #

    Ingredients say half and half OR evaporated milk. Directions it both…which is it? And PS the article says the oyster crackers are gonna thicken it 😉

    • Aimee Seavey February 5, 2015 at 9:56 am #

      Hi Jeann. The milk in the directions refers to the 2 cups of milk called for in the recipe, and not the optional evaporated milk. I’ve edited the recipe to say “Add milk and half-and-half (or evaporated milk)” in the last step to help clarify. Thanks!

    • leo g.king April 10, 2015 at 5:23 pm #

      take it from an OLD clam digger and lover of authentic old chowder [new england],the best is with evaporated milk and thickened with crushed common crackers.only unthickened chowders are the real to crack it up.

  5. I_Fortuna February 25, 2015 at 2:17 pm #

    This is Down East clam chowder and many people in New England consider this recipe authentic. Really thick chowder seems to be a later option from that of the chowder made in earlier days. The thicker chowders seem to be popular more in the South and on the West Coast. All that paste masks all the other delicate flavors of the chowdah.
    Personally, I like mine fairly thin as suggested here but there are a lot of options for thickening your chowder besides flour. One could use arrow root, mashed potato flakes or other mashed potatoes, potato or corn starch,or crackers as suggested at the beginning of the recipe.
    Also, I would suggest the use of cream instead of milk. I add it to the bowl of many soups and chowders I make instead of adding it to the pot. However, I suggest cream because if added to the pot and the soup or chowder boils, it won’t separate or curdle like milk. Even half and half would be better than milk. Also, for those who are afraid of fat, half and half comes fat free in the dairy case. : )

  6. lee bedard June 12, 2015 at 5:48 pm #

    My family originated in Aroostook County, Maine, and moved to central Massachusetts. Until I moved west I never had chowder containing anything but: clams, clam broth, butter, milk, cream (for company only) and traditional, i.e. salty crackers, either Saltines from the supermarket or Westminsters, made nearby.

    Bacon? Potatoes? Flour? You must be kidding…

    As a West Coast resident I’ve seen every form of repulsive thickener imaginable….but since I can get local clams and the dish takes about 10 minutes to prepare, I keep stick with the childhood original..

  7. peggy hoover June 25, 2015 at 4:31 pm #

    Could this be used for fish chowder, just swap the clams for multifish, or haddock, etc. ?

    • Aimee Seavey June 25, 2015 at 4:58 pm #

      Hi Peggy. Feel free to swap in or out equal amounts of your favorite seafood if you’d like to change things up, but you will get a different flavor — maybe even a better one to suit your tastes! Let us know how it turns out.

  8. Edwina August 8, 2015 at 12:34 pm #

    The reason many places give oyster crackers is lost over the years, with the chowder served pre-thickened. Originally, the crackers were used to thicken the otherwise thinner chowder. Crush the crackers into the chowder when it is served to you, then it is thickened when the crackers get stirred into it.
    Many of the chowders I have eaten were cooked at the boat, over a fire or camp grill. Then anything you had was thrown into it, and the idea of roux to thicken was not even an option, ever.

  9. Dave January 6, 2016 at 8:43 am #

    The starch from the potatoes is what thickens my similar chowdah. I’ll even take out a couple of pcs of potatoes with some of the chowder and mash em. Then add em back. Just a little, as I prefer a slightly thickened chowdah

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