5 Mistakes to Avoid When Making New England Clam Chowder

When done right, New England clam chowder is hearty and delicious, with tender clams and a rich broth. Here’s how to get the perfect pot every time.

By Amy Traverso

Sep 19 2022


Julia Child’s Favorite Fish Chowder

Photo Credit : Amy Traverso

Chowders have existed in many variations and in many cultures for centuries, but the classic creamy New England clam chowder that we know and love is a hearty, seafood-rich dish that’s quite easy to make. But there are some common mistakes that can cause your chowder to, ahem, flounder. Here’s how to avoid gloppy bowls filled with rubbery clams.

Julia Child's Favorite Fish Chowder
Julia Child’s Favorite Fish Chowder
Photo Credit : Amy Traverso

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Making New England Clam Chowder

1. Too Much Thickener

A little starch can give a tongue-coating richness to creamy chowder. Whether that’s flour, cornstarch, or the potatoes themselves, we’re all for a little boost. But you shouldn’t be able to stand a spoon up in the bowl. Tread lightly here, folks. Or do what Julia Child did and just use cream.

2. Mushy Potatoes

Some chefs cook the potatoes in the broth; others simmer them separately in a bit of water. Either way is fine, but the key is to avoid overcooking them. The longer potatoes cook, the more they’ll break down, and you want a bit of texture when you bite into a potato. So once you add those spuds, the clock is ticking. Don’t let them go for too long. And for maximum control, cook them alongside the chowder, drain, and just add them at the end.

3. Overcooked Clams or Fish

Uncooked clams need just 5 to 10 minutes in the pot, depending on size and whether they’ve already been shucked. Canned clams need only be heated through. And fish needs mere minutes. Too much boiling and you’ll have sad little rubbery clams or crumbly, dry fish.

4. Oversalting

If you eat pork, you’ll start your chowder with some bacon or salt pork. And if you’re cooking with clams, you’re adding another salty ingredient to the mix. So before you grab your salt shaker, check the flavor of the broth and season accordingly.

5. Not Enough Seafood

Have you ever had a restaurant chowder with plenty of potatoes and just one or two clams? It’s a bummer. Be generous with your proteins! How much seafood do you need? For a standard chowder, which yields about eight servings, you’ll want one pound of clam meat or two pounds of fish.

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