Will Brake For Food: New England Clam Chowder
Massachusetts has a lot going for it: the gorgeous fall foliage, towns and cities brimming with history, glistening waterfront views, and a perfected art form that simmers in pots across the state. We’re talking clam chowder, and the New England version found in Massachusetts just may be the most beloved.
The Back Story
It’s hard to put our finger on exactly when clam chowder first became a “thing,” but most people agree it dates back centuries, at least in New England. Thought to be the brainchild of early European settlers, the Colonial version was thickened with crackers in place of cream back before milk was transported year-round, and made primarily with cod. Massachusetts in particular is known for its thick, creamy version, beloved in Boston and celebrated there as the authentic recipe before other regions began creating their own chowder spinoffs.
The first known recipe for chowder was published in the Boston Evening Post in 1751. Then it was referenced—quite reverently— in the famous novel Moby-Dick a hundred years later. These days, it’s written about and discussed regularly and served coast to coast. Time may have changed the composition of the iconic dish a bit, but it sure hasn’t touched it’s popularity.
What you’ll find in the chowder crock varies by region (and even by chef). There are far more riffs than we can even list, so we’ll divide it into the two major categories: New England (“white”) and Manhattan (“red”).
When in Massachusetts, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything but the ultra-rich, creamy New England-style “chowda.” The main players: potatoes, salt pork or bacon, onions and of course, fresh clams. Thickened up by way of heavy cream or a flour roux, it’s the heartiest defense against a frigid winter’s night. There’s no telling how many bowls and Styrofoam containers Massachusetts ladles up each day, but we’re guessing it’s a dizzying number. Cracked pepper, a dash of hot sauce, and a few oyster crackers stirred in? Sounds like dinner is ready.
Manhattan-style chowder, its “red” counterpart, contains a tomato-based broth and often a slew of other vegetables. From there, the variations continue. Rhode Island uses a clear broth, San Francisco serves theirs in a sourdough bread bowl, and the adaptations just keep going and going.
Where To Pull Over
Road tripping in Massachusetts? You’ll need to stop for stomach fuel, and Union Oyster House is a solid bet if you’re in search of great clam chowder in Boston. Plus, it has some impressive historical significance as the oldest continuously-operating restaurant in America. For a no-frills, deliciously-straightforward experience, head to Yankee Lobster, situated smack on the waterfront where everything tastes fresher. Captain Parker’s Pub in Cape Cod has received award after award for it’s chowder, and will happily send you off with a to-go quart of the goodness. And when in Cambridge, Summer Shack will hook you up with a steaming, perfect bowl, no matter what time of year you visit.
Photo: Kristin Teig