Your Ultimate Guide to East Coast Clam Chowders

There’s no better antidote to this season’s cold and wet weather than clam chowder. After all, what could be more uplifting on a winter day than slurping down the essence of the summer shore? But ask cooks up and down the East Coast to distill the essence of the ocean to one steaming bowl of soup, and you’ll get half a dozen different chowders (at least). Which style’s best? We’ve included a recipe for each, so you can answer that divisive question for yourself.
Best Clam Chowder recipe and photo from CHOW

Scottish-Style Clam Chowder

The Scottish stew Cullen skink is believed to have been a predecessor to clam chowder. Like clam chowder, it calls for onions, potatoes, milk, and herbs; unlike clam chowder, finnan haddie (cold-smoked haddock) is the star rather than clams. Can’t reconcile the two? Try this Scottish-Boston hybrid that calls for both.
Photo and recipe from Saveur

New England Clam Chowder

Sometimes referred to as Boston clam chowder, New England clam chowder is the archetypal seafood chowder most Americans have come to know: a thick, chunky, cream- or milk-based chowder filled with potatoes, bacon, onions, and clams. It’s usually served with hexagonal-shaped oyster crackers, which are sometimes even used as a thickener in lieu of flour.
Photo and recipe from CHOW

Maine Clam Chowder

The ingredient list for Maine-style clam chowder is sparse, with the goal of highlighting fresh shellfish: clams, potatoes, salt pork, onions, milk or cream, and pepper. You’ll rarely see the addition of herbs or thickeners.
Photo and recipe from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

Manhattan Clam Chowder

Manhattan clam chowder, which favors tomatoes instead of the addition of milk or cream, is a little more piquant, not quite as rich, and far more divisive than its New England counterpart. James Beard famously declared, “That rather horrendous soup called Manhattan clam chowder … resembles a vegetable soup that accidentally had some clams dumped into it.”
Photo and recipe from Food52

Rhode Island Clam Chowder

Arguably the lightest of all, Rhode Island clam chowder (also known as South County–style clam chowder) has a base of clear broth and is flavored by the largest of clams, quahogs.
Photo and recipe from Leite's Culinaria

Rhode Island Red Chowder

Certain areas of Rhode Island express their love of seafood with a tomato-based chowder instead. This red chowder, sometimes known as Rocky Point or Crescent Park chowder, is not unlike Manhattan clam chowder, except don’t expect chunks of tomato. Rocky Point chowder is almost always served alongside fried clam cakes, another Rhode Island standby.
Photo and recipe from Five Minutes to Myself

Hatteras Clam Chowder

Move farther south and you’ll continue to discover distinctive chowders. The island of Hatteras in North Carolina’s Outer Banks region is marked by a chowder made with clear broth, lots of cracked pepper, and a slice of white bread at the bottom to thicken the soup.
Photo and recipe from Leite's Culinaria

Minorcan Clam Chowder

The spiciest of the bunch, Minorcan clam chowder is found near St. Augustine and the towns in the northeast corner of Florida. A byproduct of Minorcan immigration to Florida, the chowder is made with a base broth that’s flavored with tomatoes as well as the datil, a fruity, habanero-like pepper native to the West Indies and, in America, unique to St. Augustine.
Photo and recipe from Saveur

Did we leave out your favorite style of clam chowder? Let us know more about it in the comments below.

Susannah Chen is a San Francisco–based freelance writer. When she's not cooking or writing, she's on the hunt to find the world's best chilaquiles. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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