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Rhode Island Clam Chowder (Clear Broth Chowder)

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Have you ever heard of Rhode Island Clam Chowder? This clear broth clam chowder has no cream or milk, and is a lighter clam chowder than other versions. It’s so simple and easy to make in only 30 minutes, especially because this version uses canned clams (but feel free to use fresh if you want!).

You’ve heard of New England clam chowder, and maybe you’ve heard of Manhattan clam chowder (which has tomatoes in it), but have you ever heard of clear broth clam chowder from Rhode Island (and Connecticut)? It’s simple, delicious, easy to make, and lighter than its creamy counterpart. Plus, because it has no cream or milk in it, it’s easy to make it dairy-free (though I love adding a little butter for flavor and richness).

Rhode Island has so many unique cuisines specific to the area. From bakery pizza (which honestly I just don’t get) to stuffies to clamcakes and coffee milk, it’s amazing how much is unique to the tiny state! And this clear broth Rhode Island clam chowder is a staple in the area. Having lived here for three years now, I think it’s about time I shared a Rhode Island recipe with you all.

And yes, before you come at me with pitchforks, I DO use canned clams here. They are accessible in all parts of the country, inexpensive, and oh so much easier to work with than fresh! But you can use fresh if you want (more on that below). Just don’t get snooty about it in the comments, ok?

Let’s get to it – you’ll love this easy one-pot 30 minute Rhode Island clam chowder recipe!

Why use canned clams for chowder instead of fresh

Cooking with fresh clams can be a fun and satisfying experience if you’re into that kind of thing! But with fresh clams, you have to clean them SUPER well (otherwise you may end up with a mouthful of sand), steam them, sort through to discard any that aren’t good, remove them from the shells, discard the shells, and strain the broth. It’s a whole process.

If that sounds interesting to you – go for it! Here’s a great tutorial on how to prepare fresh clams. Fresh clams can result in more meaty, large bites, as well as a more briny, fresh flavor. Quahogs are traditionally used for Rhode Island clam chowder.

HOWEVER. Canned clams also have great flavor and are infinitely easy to work with. They are packed in clam juice, which you simply drain out to use as the chowder base. Then you just toss the clams right into the chowder – they’re already cooked from the canning process, so you just add them in at the end to warm up.

If you don’t live along a coast, fresh clams can be hard to come by. So I hope this recipe works well for people who want a taste of New England but don’t have access to fresh clams (which, unless you harvest them yourself, can also be very pricey compared to canned!).

Which canned clams (and clam juice) are best?

Ideally, I recommend using Bar Harbor Whole Clams or chopped clams. They come from Maine, and they are packed without any preservatives.

My store was out of the Bar Harbor brand, so I used Bumblebee Whole Baby Clams, which are widely accessible. These worked great. The clams were very tiny, and I wished they were a little meatier. But they were super clean (no sand) and everything tasted great!

Another solid brand is Snow’s.

Be sure to buy whole clams or chopped clams – minced will be too small to hold up in a chowder. Can sizes vary – you’ll need approximately 20 oz. of clams, which is 2-3 cans depending on size.

As for the clam juice (which is used to supplement the juice in the cans for the base of the soup, like a broth), Bar Harbor and Snow’s both make a good jarred clam juice.

Ingredients and Substitutions

Canned Clams – or fresh, see above for more on this.

Jarred Clam Juice – unless you are using fresh clams, then use the liquid from steaming.

Bacon – omit for a meat-free version, see below for more.

Butter – omit for a dairy-free version, see below for more.

Potatoes – I used gold potatoes. Red can also be used. Russets may lose their shape a bit as they cook.



Fresh Herbs – I used a mix of parsley, chives, and dill. Thyme can also be used, as well as dried herbs in a smaller amount.

Salt and Pepper

How to make Rhode Island Clam Chowder

First, sauté the chopped bacon until it’s cooked and crispy. Spoon out and discard any excess bacon grease (leave about 1 – 2 tablespoons) and then add some butter to the pan. Add the celery and onions to cook in the butter and bacon grease.

Sauté chopped bacon.

Remove excess bacon grease.

Add butter to pot.

Add celery and onions to pot.

While the veggies are cooking, drain the canned clams. Drain the juice from the canned clams into a 4-cup glass measuring cup (or bowl if you don’t have one). Set drained clams aside. Top off the clam juice with jarred clam juice until you have 4 cups total.

Drain clam juice from cans.

Measure out four cups clam juice.

Once the celery and onions have softened and cooked, it’s time to add the clam juice, some water, and the potatoes to the pot. After about 20 minutes or so, the potatoes will have cooked through. Then, you’ll add the drained canned clams as well as the fresh herbs and heat for a few more minutes. As an optional last step, I like to melt a little more butter into the chowder off-heat for added richness. That’s it! All done.

Add clam juice, water, and potatoes to pot.

Add canned clams to pot.

Add fresh herbs to pot.

Add butter to soup when finished.

Can you freeze clear broth clam chowder?

Yes! One benefit of not using any cream or milk that Rhode Island clam chowder freezes well. The texture of the potatoes may change a bit from freezing, but personally I never mind that.

Do I have to use bacon in chowder?

Nope! If you want to make this soup meat-free (perfect for lent, pork-free diets, or pescatarians), just omit the bacon and sauté the veggies in a bit more butter (or olive oil). You may want to add a bit of smoked paprika to the soup to give it a little smoky flavor as a replacement for the smokiness from the bacon.

How to I make Rhode Island Chowder dairy-free?

Because there is no milk or cream in Rhode Island clam chowder, it’s easy to make it dairy free simply by omitting the butter. You can just use more bacon grease (don’t remove as much or any from the pot) or use olive oil, or vegan butter as a substitute.

Tips and Tricks

Don’t add salt until the chowder is completely done. The canned clams, bacon, and the clam juice all have added salt in them, so it’s best to wait to see if you even need any extra salt.

Spice it up! Add some cayenne pepper or other spices if you want.

Be sure to serve this clam chowder with some good crusty no knead bread or oyster crackers.

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Rhode Island Clam Chowder (Clear Broth Chowder)

Rhode Island Clam Chowder is made with a clear broth – no milk or cream! With only a few simple ingredients and by using canned clams, this chowder comes together in only 30 minutes. It’s an easy, lighter clam chowder that’s easy to make dairy-free. Feel free to omit the bacon for a meat-free/pescatarian version.

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Course: SoupCuisine: American
Prep Time: 10 minutes minutesCook Time: 25 minutes minutesTotal Time: 30 minutes minutes
Servings: 8 servings
Calories: 254kcal
Author: Elizabeth Lindemann

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Ingredients2 slices thick-cut bacon cut into ¼-inch pieces2 tablespoons butter (omit for dairy-free; see notes)1 large yellow onion diced3 ribs celery diced20 oz. canned whole or chopped clams drained, juices reserved (see notes about can sizes and brand recommendations)4 cups clam juice (from canned clams, plus jarred clam juice)4 cups water1 ½ lb. potatoes diced (I used gold potatoes, see notes)2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley2 tablespoons minced fresh chives1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill (or 1 teaspoon dried)salt and pepper to tasteextra butter and fresh herbs optional
InstructionsIn a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, cook the cut 2 slices thick-cut bacon until crispy. Tilt the pot to the side to spoon out all but approximately 1-2 tablespoons of the bacon grease – discard or save for another purpose. Add the 2 tablespoons butter to the pot with the bacon and stir until melted. Add the diced 1 large yellow onion and diced 3 ribs celery and continue to cook over medium heat until translucent, about 3 minutes. While the onions are cooking, drain the 20 oz. canned whole or chopped clams and set the clams aside. Reserve the juices in a 4-cup glass measuring cup, if you have one. Then, top off the measuring up with jarred clam juice until you have 4 cups total. (if you don’t have a 4-cup glass measuring cup, measure out 4 cups total clam juice in another way). Add the 4 cups clam juice to the pot, along with 4 cups water. Bring to a boil and add the diced 1 ½ lb. potatoes. Turn heat to low, cover, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the reserved clams to the pot, as well as the 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley, 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives, and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill. Heat for another two minutes or so. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed (keep in mind the canned clams, bacon, and clam juice all already have salt in them and you may not need to add much extra). If desired, add a little extra butter and fresh herbs to serve, preferably with crusty bread or oyster crackers.

For a bacon-free version, omit the bacon and sauté the onions and celery in 3 tablespoons butter or olive oil. Optionally, add a little smoked paprika (approximately 1 teaspoon) for a smoky taste.
For a dairy-free version, omit the butter and use extra bacon grease and/or olive oil instead.
To use fresh clams, clean and prepare them well and use the steaming liquid instead of jarred clam juice (here’s a tutorial on how to prepare fresh clams).
You can freeze the chowder in an airtight container for around 6 months.
Canned clams come in different sizes depending on brand, so I gave a range for the amount. You’ll need about 3 small cans or 2 large cans. I recommend Bar Harbor Whole or Chopped clams if you can find them. Otherwise, Snow’s or Bumblebee brand will do. I don’t recommend using minced clams – make sure to get whole or chopped.
Adding some extra butter at the end of cooking adds a unique richness and flavor – I love doing this to different soup recipes. Without the cream and milk, and because clams are so lean, the extra butter helps add some much needed rich flavor and texture, but it’s optional if you don’t want to add it.
For the fresh herbs, feel free to use any combination you like / what you have available. Thyme is also delicious in this chowder.

NutritionCalories: 254kcal | Carbohydrates: 32g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 35mg | Sodium: 574mg | Potassium: 582mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 670IU | Vitamin C: 26mg | Calcium: 63mg | Iron: 2mg
Nutrition Information DisclaimerThe provided nutrition information is my best estimate and does not include any added sodium from seasoning to taste, any optional ingredients, and it does not take brands into account. I use an automatic API to calculate this information. Feel free to calculate it yourself using one of these tools:
Very Well Fit Nutrition Information Calculator

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