September 10, 2020

Rhode Island Clam Chowder

There may be a thousand ways to make clam chowder, but try your hand at this Rhode Island style recipe. Even if you're not usually a fan, this version might surprise you...

Quahogs and Clambakes

From oysters to quahogs to scallops and everything in between, shellfish have been an incredibly important food source in Rhode Island for thousands of years. Since we've been hearing a lot about the amusement park Rocky Point in our "This Week in Herreshoff History" series the past few weeks, we thought we'd highlight one of the things people went to Rocky Point for: the food! From clambakes to clam chowder to clam fritters, the Rhode Island quahog featured prominently in the Rocky Point dining hall. We'll keep exploring RI themed recipes in the coming months, but thought we'd start out by featuring a true classic: clam chowder.

Clam chowder is a New England staple in all its forms. Depending where you're from, you might make it with a thick cream-based broth, or a red broth, or a broth with a lot of hot sauce! But a simple clear broth is something Rhode Island is particularly known for. We have adapted a recipe from the Farmer's Almanac to use canned clams for those of you who might not have ready access to fresh local cherrystones or quahogs. Consider making some cornmeal johnny cakes as a side, and check out the digital copy of the book Rhode Island's Shellfish Heritage: an ecological history by Sarah Schumann while you enjoy! It's a fantastic history chronicling the ups and downs of shellfishing in Rhode Island, and will provide some interesting food for thought about how we take care of our coastal resources.

A broadside poster advertising a clam bake at Rocky Point in 1871; image courtesy of the Mystic Seaport Museum via Rhode Island's Shellfish Heritage


3 - 4 slices of bacon

2 tablespoons butter (if not using bacon)

1 large white onion, diced

1 celery stalk, chopped

1 bay leaf

1.5 lbs waxy potatoes, scrubbed and chopped into 1/2" cubes

2 cans of chopped clams (6.5 oz), including liquid

1 can/jar (8 oz.) clam juice - shake well!

Enough water to cover

2 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus extra for garnish

Salt and pepper, to taste

Optional: 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning or hot sauce, to taste


Cook the bacon in a large pot with a heavy bottom; when crispy, set aside to drain. Pour off most of the bacon grease but leave a little in the bottom of the pan. (If not using bacon, skip this step and start by melting butter in pan). Add onion, potatoes, celery, and bay leaf and cook for a few minutes, stirring until onions start to become translucent but not brown. Add clams with their liquid plus additional clam juice, parsley, and enough water to cover the potatoes. (Optional not-very-RI touch, we admit: add Old Bay and/or preferred hot sauce here!). Simmer for about 15 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through; add crumbled bacon, if using, towards end. Salt and pepper to taste and serve with extra parsley.

The ferris wheel at Rocky Point; image courtesy the Providence Public Library digital archives

As always, let us know what you think of this At Home Activity. What's your favorite chowder recipe? Red, white or clear? Do you think we deserve to have our RI licenses revoked for including Old Bay in this one!? We expect some controversy, let us know! We love hearing from you and there are many ways to get in touch: comment below, drop us an email at [email protected], tag us on Instagram @Herreshoff or post on our Facebook page.

This recipe was adapted from a Farmer's Almanac article, with some extra local knowledge

3 replies added

  1. Wendy September 11, 2020 Reply

    Celery in chowder?! Bacon?! My family has been in Portsmouth since 1638. My grandmother would come out of her grave and beat me to death if I put that stuff in my chowder. Salt pork, onions, fresh quahog ground up ,quahog liqueur(juice), butter and potatoes with a little pepper. That’s it. Add half and half before serving. It was supposed to be simple and filling. Not fancy.

    • e.ansel September 16, 2020 Reply

      We’d love to try your recipe! Would you be willing to share quantities with us?

  2. PookieBear April 10, 2021 Reply

    I recently began making my own clam chowder at home…
    Basically, it’s identical to the RI Clam Chowder recipe… but i add 2 cups of heavy cream, double the cans of chopped clams, and 3 Tbs of corn starch for thickening if desired.

    It is tastier than Clam Chowder in a can; better than any restaurant, and better than ANY Clam Chowder at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf!

    I’ll never eat commercial clam chowder, ever again! This recipe is EXCELLENT, too.

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