You’ll love this thick, creamy New England-style clam chowder in a bread bowl! It’s made with a combination of minced and whole clams, heavy cream, onions, celery, potatoes and fresh herbs. This recipe uses store-bought sourdough bread bowls, which I’ll show you how to hollow out!
Clam chowder is an old fashioned New England comfort food that goes well with any type of seafood dish. A few of my favorite things to serve it with are these Maryland-style crab cakes and these hot buttered lobster rolls!
Why you’ll love this recipe
Anyone who loves dipping their bread in chowder will be an instant fan of this recipe! The chowder itself is creamy and delicious, not too thick or too runny. The flavor is creamy yet delicate.
Sourdough is one of the best breads to serve with clam chowder because of its soft center and firm crust. A bread bowl is the perfect vessel for chowder! You can usually buy them at your local bakery or grocery store.
Commonly asked questions
New England clam chowder is a creamy soup made with clams, onions, potatoes, milk or cream and flavored with drippings from pork fat. It’s famous for its white color and can be made with fresh or canned clams.
These 2 variations of clam chowder have very few, if any similarities other than the fact they both contain clams. Unlike New England chowder which has a creamy base, Manhattan clam chowder has a thinner, tomato-based broth and contains a mixture of clams and vegetables like carrots, celery and tomatoes.
No. Rendered pork fat or bacon grease are often used for flavor but there is no actual bacon in New England clam chowder. As someone who has lived in New England my whole life, I can say this with confidence.
This is not to say that you have to stick with New England tradition! I’m a firm believer in adding whatever you want. Besides bread bowls aren’t exactly a New England thing, they’re more of a San Francisco thing.
Bread is a natural pairing with soup and a bread bowl is used as a fun and indulgent way of enjoying this dish. Bread bowls lend themselves well to creamy soups like chowder, but are not ideal for soups that have a watery/runny base.
Start by hollowing out the bread bowls – you can use the photos near the end of the post as a guide. Ladle the soup into the bread bowls and start by dipping the tops into the chowder first. As you eat the soup, you can tear pieces of bread off the sides and eat them.
Here’s everything you’ll need to make and serve this recipe! Reference the recipe card at the bottom of this page for measurements and exact quantities.
- Main ingredients: canned minced clams, canned whole clams, both drained
- Vegetables: celery and red-skinned potatoes. You can peel the potatoes but you don’t have to.
- Seasonings and aromatics: onions, parsley, fresh thyme, bay leaf, sea salt, black pepper
- Base ingredients: chicken stock, clam juice, heavy cream, all-purpose flour
- Seasonings: sea salt and black pepper
- Fats: Bacon grease or rendered pork to sauté the onions/celery, and salted butter for the roux
- Sourdough bread bowls: store-bought or from your local bakery is fine.
Note: you may be asking why I drain the canned clams and using bottled clam juice instead. I prefer it this way because I like to make sure there are no shell remnants left behind from the canned clams!
How to make clam chowder in a bread bowl
Part 1: Prepare the clam chowder
Refer to the photos below for each of the steps!
- Heat the bacon grease/pork fat (or butter) in a 4.5 quart soup pot.
- Add diced onions, celery and thyme. Sauté over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add crushed garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
- Add clam juice, chicken broth and potatoes to the pot. Bring to a boil.
- In a separate saucepan, make a roux by melting butter over medium heat. Once the butter melts, turn the flame down low and add flour. Whisk flour and butter together to form a paste, then add heavy cream. Continue to whisk until the roux thickens. Remove from heat.
- Stir the roux-mixture into the pot with the clam juice and potatoes. Once the pot resumes boiling, reduce heat, cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally. The chowder will thicken as it cooks and the potatoes will become tender.
- Add the clams and let them cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Turn the flame off, stir in the chopped parsley and cover the pot while you carve the bread bowls. Directions for carving the bread bowls are below.
Tip: pork fat or bacon grease can be rendered by cutting either bacon or salt pork into pieces and reserving the grease. True New England clam chowder doesn’t contain the actual meat itself, but some people from other parts of the country like to add bacon.
Part 2: Carve the bread bowls and serve!
The images below demonstrate each of the steps. Carving a bread bowl is so easy!
- Place a ramekin or very small bowl on top of the bread bowl. Hold it steady with one hand. Be sure to keep your fingers away from where you’ll be cutting!
- Using a sharp paring knife, cut around the perimeter of the ramekin. Be careful not to cut too far down or you could puncture the bottom of the bread bowl. Aim to leave ¼ of an inch of space between the tip of your knife and the bottom of the bowl.
- Use your hands to pull the tops off the bread bowls, and then re-insert your knife to finishing hollowing the bread bowl out. Pull out any remaining bread.
- Ladle the chowder into the bread bowls and serve!
Serving suggestion: Top each bowl of chowder with chopped fresh parsley. You can use the bread from the insides of the bread bowl to dip in the clam chowder!
Recommended side dishes
Here are some sides that go well with clam chowder!
- Clam cakes are the number one pairing with New England clam chowder! Typically you wouldn’t need the bread bowl with clam cakes, but there are no rules.
- Lobster rolls are by far my favorite food to serve with clam chowder! Make sure you check out my recipe for hot lobster rolls with drawn butter.
- Try the clam chowder with these delicious Maryland-style crab cakes.
- Rather than serving the clam chowder in a bread bowl you can just serve it with sourdough bread on the side.
Here are some substitutions that you can make in case there’s an ingredient on the list that you don’t like:
- Feel free to use fresh clams in place of the canned clams for a truly authentic New England clam chowder. Honestly, I think a lot of local places in New England use canned because it’s more economical.
- Replace the pork fat or bacon grease with 2 tablespoons of salted butter if you wish.
- Half and half is a lighter alternative and can be used in place of heavy cream. It may affect the texture slightly, but you likely won’t notice too much of a difference.
- Fresh dill or chives can be used in place of parsley. Dill has a very different/more distinct flavor than parsley. Chives are more mild in taste.
- For more clam flavor – reserve the clam juice from the canned clams and use it in place of the chicken broth. Just inspect it to make sure there are no broken shells in it.
Storing and reheating
Store leftover clam chowder in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or for up to 3 months in the freezer.
Bread bowls can be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for 2-3 days. To keep the insides fresh, hold off on carving until you’re ready to serve them. You can also store them in the refrigerator or freezer.
Other recipes you’ll love
- Connecticut Lobster Roll Recipe – No Mayo
- Easy Baltimore Crab Cakes
- Crab Spinach and Artichoke Dip
- Easy Portuguese Sweet Bread Recipe (Pão Doce/Massa Sovada)
- Portuguese Style Fried Calamari Recipe – Lulas Fritas
Clam Chowder in a Bread Bowl
- 3 tablespoons bacon grease or rendered pork fat*
- 1 small onion chopped
- 1 celery stalk chopped
- 1 teaspoon crushed garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 16 ounces clam juice two 8-ounce bottles
- 1 cup chicken broth
- ½ pound russet potatoes cut into small cubes
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 3 tablespoons salted butter
- 3 cups heavy cream
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cans minced clams drained
- 1 can whole clams drained
- 1 teaspoon fresh chopped parsley
- 4 bread bowls store-bought or from your local bakery is fine
- Heat the bacon grease/pork fat in a 4.5 quart soup pot.
- Add the onions, celery and thyme. Sauté over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
- Add the clam juice, chicken broth and potatoes to the pot and bring to a boil.
- In a separate saucepan, make a roux by melting 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Once the butter melts, turn the flame down low and whisk in the flour until a paste forms. Add the heavy cream and continue to whisk until the mixture (roux) is thick. Remove from heat.
- Stir the roux-mixture into to the pot with the clam juice and potatoes. Once the pot resumes boiling, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. The chowder base will thicken as it cooks and the potatoes will become tender.
- Add the clams to the pot and let cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Turn the flame off, stir in the fresh parsley and cover the part while you carve the bread bowls. Directions for carving the bread bowls are in the notes section below.
- Ladle the clam chowder into bread bowls and serve.
- Place a ramekin or very small bowl on top of the bread bowl. Hold the ramekin steady with one hand and keep your fingers away from where you'll be inserting the knife.
- Use a sharp paring knife to cut around the perimeter of the ramekin. Be careful not to cut too far down or you could puncture the bread bowl. Aim to leave ¼ of an inch of space between the tip of your knife and the bottom of the bread bowl.
- Use your hands to pull the tops off the bread bowls, and then re-insert your knife to finishing hollowing them out. Pull out any remaining bread.
A few basic safety tips!
- Always wash your hands after touching raw seafood
- Don’t leave the chowder sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave the chowder unattended while it’s cooking
- Use oils with high smoking point to avoid harmful compounds
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove