Summer is in full swing, and for coastal New Englanders that means lots and lots of seafood. Fried, grilled, raw...there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the oceanic bounty of the season. One of the most ubiquitous dishes enjoyed is New England clam chowder. We’re known for the stuff.
Bowls everywhere are loaded up with the thick, creamy broth studded with clams and potatoes (and a handful or two of crunchy oyster crackers, of course). From Turk’s Seafood in Mattapoisett to Boston’s Barking Crab and at every Legal Sea Food restaurant in between, “chowdah” is as New England as going to a Sox game.
Travel beyond our region, however, and things start to change. Cream and flour is replaced with clear broth. Crab replaces clam. In some cases, even tomatoes are added (gasp). From Bermuda’s fish chowder, brown from beef stock, to Seattle’s chowder loaded with huge geoducks (the world’s largest burrowing clam), every region has their version.
While they may never replace our hometown recipe in our hearts, I can say they are absolutely delicious in their own ways and totally worth trying. This summer, take a walk on the wild side and go with something new. Don’t worry - there’s plenty of the hometown stuff to enjoy as well.
Here are five other chowders to consider for your summer table.
Rhode Island Clear Clam Chowder
Ordering chowder in Little Rhody can be a bit of a gamble - which style will you get? It could be creamy like New England style, or red like a Manhattan style. Or, it could be the real deal and be clear. Like most of the earliest known chowder recipes from the 18th century, actual Rhode Island Clear Clam Chowder is based in a clear broth.
In addition to clams (known locally as quahogs), this chowder includes bacon, onions, celery, potatoes, and herbs. Boston restaurateur and seafood master Jasper White quips, “This chowder is a chowder anatomy lesson. You can see all the parts floating in the broth.” Lighter in body, this style of chowder can be served with a small pitcher of warm milk to add if desired. (Just don’t let Rhode Island natives see you add it.)
Minorcan Chowder (Florida)
Head down to the Sunshine State, and you’ll find a recipe often overlooked by chowder lovers. Minorcan chowder (sometimes locally spelled Menorkan) is named for the Mediterranean island of Minorca. Transplanted settlers from the 18th century made use of ingredients found in St. Augustine, including the unique Datil chile pepper, which is only found locally.
Tomato, bell pepper, celery, bacon, and potatoes round out the ingredient list. The result is a richly spicy chowder that is “hotter than jalapeño, but not quite as hot as habanero.” If you’re up for a little bit of zing to your chowder, this is fantastic.
Hatteras Chowder (North Carolina)
For more than 200 years, Hatteras Chowder has been a part of the Outer Banks diet. Historically one of the poorest parts of North Carolina, this area suffered from poor soil. Crop growth was difficult and limited. Everyone in this area could grow potatoes and onions, however, and most had salt pork in their larders. Add in easily-found clams and the result was a brothy chowder similar to the New England style without the milk.
Later versions would add in carrots and celery but most folks from the land of Kitty Hawk agree - simpler is better. Hatteras Chowder is the perfect antidote for cold nights when the coastal winds howl.
Fish Chowder with Lobster (Nova Scotia)
Somewhere around the mid-1600’s, French and English crossed paths in Atlantic Canada, leading to exchanges of culinary ideas and traditions. Cookbooks from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia list basic recipes for seafood soup, leading some historians to think this may be where chowder was first created.
While most people today don’t think of Canada as chowder central, there is a thriving tradition of enjoying stocks loaded with various kinds of seafood. Nova Scotia Fish Chowder with Lobster is a classic recipe studded with haddock, scallops and lobster. Salt pork, onion, celery, and potatoes are added to the hearty broth. Cream, paprika, and fresh thyme complete the recipe, yielding a chowder that is complex and richly flavored. Traditionally, common crackers are toasted and buttered as an accompaniment.
Salmon Chowder (Pacific Northwest)
When it comes to chowder, it’s surprising how many people leave the left coast out of the conversation. Sure, San Francisco Crab “Meatball” Chowder might not be the first thing you think of but it shouldn’t be the last, either.
Head farther north, and it’s easy to take advantage of the amazing seafood found there. Recipes for Pacific Northwest Salmon Chowder take full advantage of some of the best fish found off either coast. Heavy cream and fresh herbs like tarragon and thyme give the broth depth and a delightful aroma. Most recipes call for bacon and potatoes. Some variations take advantage of spring, the best season to scoop up local salmon, by including seasonal vegetables like spring onions and fresh peas. This chowder is often finished off with a couple tablespoons of butter, giving each bowlful a silky, opulent texture.