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The World of Chowder | Your Guide to Varieties and Variations

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Chowder, or "chowda" as it's lovingly referred to by New Englanders, is the ultimate comforting and (often) creamy soup brimming with seafood or vegetables. This soup is unique. So hearty in winter, yet the perfect summer meal, it's the chameleon of soups. A loved dish in American cuisine, but did you know there are distinct regional variations that stir up passionate debates among chowder aficionados?


Let’s dive into the differences between New England Clam Chowder, Manhattan Clam Chowder, Rhode Island Chowder, and Delaware Chowder. We'll also uncover some fascinating tidbits about this iconic soup.


But First, What Is Chowder?

This is a little confusing. There are a few main parts to chowder.

  1. Main Ingredient: Most commonly it's a type of seafood. Clams are most popular. But containing seafood isn't a steadfast rule. Corn Chowder is very popular and typically doesn't include any seafood. In addition to the main ingredient, it's very common to include cured pork, like bacon.

  2. Basic Seasonings: Nearly all chowders include a combination of onion, celery, and herbs with thyme being especially popular.

  3. Liquid: All Chowders use some type of stock whether it's seafood stock, chicken stock, or vegetable broth.

  4. Thickener: Not all thickeners are the same. Some Chowders use cream, others are thickened by a roux, and some use the starch of potatoes to develop a slightly thicker consistency compared to a typical soup


That Sounds a Lot Like Soup... What's the Difference?

Excellent question. To put it simply, all chowders are soup, but not all soups are chowder. There are two distinctions we'll stand behind:

  1. Chowders are typically creamy (but as you'll soon learn, not always), but they are always thicker and heartier.

  2. Soups are more versatile in that they can include chicken, beef along with vegetables and pasta or rice. Chowders typically contain only seafood and vegetables or vegetables alone.


Yes, we know, that's clear as, well... New England Chowder. But that's as clear as Chowders get.



How Did Clam Chowder Become So Popular?

As far as chowders go, Clam Chowder reigns the king. This hearty soup has a rich history rooted in early American culinary traditions. Its believed the origins trace back to the northeastern United States, particularly New England, where it emerged among coastal communities in the 1700's. As most all American dishes, we know it evolved from the native dishes of settlers. In the case of Chowder, inspiration was taken from similar European stews but adapted to include local ingredients abundant in the region, particularly clams and potatoes.


The popularity of Clam Chowder grew alongside the burgeoning fishing industry in New England, where clams were readily available and inexpensive, making clam chowder a practical and nourishing meal for fishermen and their families. The Union Oyster House, the oldest continuously operated restaurant in America, opening its doors in 1826 had it on its menus not long after opening. Of course, as things evolve with the advancement of technology, New England Clam Chowder made its way to other regions of the United States, and those people then put their own local spin on the dish.


When is Chowder Most Popular?

Soup in summer? If it's chowder, absolutely. Some people are just soup people year round, but for those that aren't, chowder is one of those rare soups that people crave during the summer months. But why? Chowder is typically best served warm, not hot like many soups. The cream (notably in New England Clam Chowder) risks curdling, so it's always warm and not piping hot. Even when it's hot outside, chowder can have a cooling effect.


Then there's the seafood. Seafood has a brininess that is best enjoyed during it's peak summer season. This is a fisherman's dish afterall, and the waters are filled fishers getting the best catch during the summer months. Chowder is arguably at its best in the summer. Whether you live on the coast, or inland, chowder will bring you sea.


Let's explore some of the most common varieties of Chowder along with some fun facts about this beloved dish. >>

Regional Varieties of Chowder

1. New England Clam Chowder

Origin: New England Clam Chowder, often referred to simply as "clam chowder," originates from the northeastern United States, particularly from Massachusetts and Maine. This is what most people think of when they think of chowder.

Characteristics:

  • Base: Cream, or milk and cream-based broth, giving it a rich and velvety texture. The base is sometimes started by making a roux to thicken the broth, but not always.

  • Ingredients: Clams, diced potatoes, onions, often celery and usually salt pork or bacon for added flavor. Thyme is a common herb used in New England Clam Chowder.

  • Flavor Profile: It is known for its mild, comforting flavor with a hint of sweetness from the cream and the briny taste of clams.

Fun Fact: In 1939, Maine passed a law that prohibits the use of tomatoes in clam chowder, cementing the dish’s creamy tradition in the state’s culinary history.



2. Manhattan Clam Chowder

Origin: Manhattan Clam Chowder originated in, you guessed it, Manhattan, New York City.

Characteristics:

  • Base: It differs significantly from its New England counterpart by using a clear, tomato-based broth instead of cream.

  • Ingredients: Along with clams and potatoes, it includes tomatoes, carrots, celery, onions, and sometimes bell peppers.

  • Flavor Profile: Manhattan Clam Chowder has a tangy and slightly acidic flavor due to the tomatoes, with a hearty vegetable-forward profile.

Fun Fact: The inclusion of tomatoes in Manhattan Clam Chowder sparked a huge rivalry between New Yorkers and New Englanders, leading to debates about whether a chowder should ever contain tomatoes.


3. Rhode Island Chowder

Origin: Rhode Island Chowder hails from the smallest state in the United States, Rhode Island.

Characteristics:

  • Base: Similar to New England Clam Chowder but with a clear broth rather than a creamy one. The clear broth is traditionally made with clam broth. It's possible this may have been the earliest version of Clam Chowder.

  • Ingredients: Clams, potatoes, onions, and sometimes salt pork or bacon, like New England Clam Chowder

  • Flavor Profile: Rhode Island Chowder has a lighter and clearer broth, allowing the flavors of the clams and vegetables to shine through without the richness of cream.

Fun Fact: Rhode Island is known for its strict adherence to clam chowder traditions, particularly favoring the clear broth style over creamy variations.


4. Delaware Chowder

Origin: Delaware Seafood Chowder is a regional specialty of Delaware.

Characteristics:

  • Base: Delaware Chowder often is a seafood chowder. It typically features a creamy broth, similar to New England Clam Chowder.

  • Ingredients: In addition to clams, it often includes a variety of seafood such as crab, shrimp, and sometimes corn. Salt pork is also a star, typically being fried before adding it to the base.

  • Flavor Profile: Delaware Seafood Chowder combines the briny flavors of clams with the sweetness of crab and the savory notes of other seafood, creating a rich and satisfying dish.

Fun Fact: Delaware Seafood Chowder reflects the state's coastal heritage and the abundance of fresh seafood available in the region.


5. Long Island Clam Chowder

Origin: Long Island, NY baby!

Characteristics:

  • Base: This chowder is a blend between New England Clam Chowder and Manhattan Clam Chowder. It has a creamy and tomatoey base.

  • Ingredients: It varies, but the notable ingredients are clams, potatoes, cream and tomatoes

  • Flavor Profile: A mix of creamy and tangy. This chowder celebrates all of its heritage, being close to Manhattan but still being close to New England, as well

Fun Fact: Delaware Seafood Chowder reflects the state's coastal heritage and the abundance of fresh seafood available in the region.


The Great Chowder Debate

Chowder enthusiasts often engage in spirited debates over which style reigns supreme. New Englanders staunchly defend their creamy chowder, arguing its rich texture and delicate flavors are unparalleled. Meanwhile, advocates of Manhattan Clam Chowder celebrate its vibrant color and zesty tomato base, claiming it offers a refreshing alternative to the cream-based version. Who's right? Well, it all comes down to taste, we suppose.


What about Oyster Crackers?

Oyster crackers have a strong historical and cultural connection to New England, particularly in the context of seafood dishes, and very much so clam chowder. These salty crisp crackers were popularized in the region during the 19th century, where they became a staple companion to seafood soups and stews. No, they don't contain oysters. They're just the perfect accompaniment.


The name "oyster crackers" itself suggests their original association with oyster-based dishes, which were prevalent in New England due to the abundance of oysters along the coast. Oyster crackers were often served alongside oyster stew and later became a favored addition to clam chowder.


Over time, they have become ingrained in the culinary heritage of New England, symbolizing a regional preference for hearty, comforting dishes enjoyed during cold winters and along the coastal summers. Whenever you have bowl of Clam Chowder, a side of oyster crackers is a must.


Whether you prefer the creamy indulgence of New England Clam Chowder, the tangy zest of Manhattan Clam Chowder, or the clear simplicity of Rhode Island Chowder, there’s no denying that chowder is one of America's most iconic dishes. Celebrating regional variations is just a part of our mission. We believe at The Chef & The Dish food tells a story of history and people. Learn how to cook the world's most iconic dishes in our private 1:1 cooking classes with top chefs around the world.





ABOUT THE CHEF & THE DISH

The Chef & The Dish has chefs around the world that you video conference into your kitchen for a private 1:1 virtual cooking class. Learn how to make pasta with a chef video calling you live from Italy, Pad Thai with a chef virtually in your kitchen live from Thailand. Together you cook, share stories, laugh and make a multi course meal together. Rated 'Best Date Night,' 'Best Gifts,' and "Best Cooking Classes" by WSJ, Forbes, Vanity Fair, Martha Stewart, Rolling Stone and tens more. Transport your kitchen for the day.™

www.thechefandthedish.com 

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The World of Chowder | Your Guide to Varieties and Variations

Updated: Jun 27

Chowder, or "chowda" as it's lovingly referred to by New Englanders, is the ultimate comforting and (often) creamy soup brimming with seafood or vegetables. This soup is unique. So hearty in winter, yet the perfect summer meal, it's the chameleon of soups. A loved dish in American cuisine, but did you know there are distinct regional variations that stir up passionate debates among chowder aficionados?


Let’s dive into the differences between New England Clam Chowder, Manhattan Clam Chowder, Rhode Island Chowder, and Delaware Chowder. We'll also uncover some fascinating tidbits about this iconic soup.


But First, What Is Chowder?

This is a little confusing. There are a few main parts to chowder.

  1. Main Ingredient: Most commonly it's a type of seafood. Clams are most popular. But containing seafood isn't a steadfast rule. Corn Chowder is very popular and typically doesn't include any seafood. In addition to the main ingredient, it's very common to include cured pork, like bacon.

  2. Basic Seasonings: Nearly all chowders include a combination of onion, celery, and herbs with thyme being especially popular.

  3. Liquid: All Chowders use some type of stock whether it's seafood stock, chicken stock, or vegetable broth.

  4. Thickener: Not all thickeners are the same. Some Chowders use cream, others are thickened by a roux, and some use the starch of potatoes to develop a slightly thicker consistency compared to a typical soup


That Sounds a Lot Like Soup... What's the Difference?

Excellent question. To put it simply, all chowders are soup, but not all soups are chowder. There are two distinctions we'll stand behind:

  1. Chowders are typically creamy (but as you'll soon learn, not always), but they are always thicker and heartier.

  2. Soups are more versatile in that they can include chicken, beef along with vegetables and pasta or rice. Chowders typically contain only seafood and vegetables or vegetables alone.


Yes, we know, that's clear as, well... New England Chowder. But that's as clear as Chowders get.



How Did Clam Chowder Become So Popular?

As far as chowders go, Clam Chowder reigns the king. This hearty soup has a rich history rooted in early American culinary traditions. Its believed the origins trace back to the northeastern United States, particularly New England, where it emerged among coastal communities in the 1700's. As most all American dishes, we know it evolved from the native dishes of settlers. In the case of Chowder, inspiration was taken from similar European stews but adapted to include local ingredients abundant in the region, particularly clams and potatoes.


The popularity of Clam Chowder grew alongside the burgeoning fishing industry in New England, where clams were readily available and inexpensive, making clam chowder a practical and nourishing meal for fishermen and their families. The Union Oyster House, the oldest continuously operated restaurant in America, opening its doors in 1826 had it on its menus not long after opening. Of course, as things evolve with the advancement of technology, New England Clam Chowder made its way to other regions of the United States, and those people then put their own local spin on the dish.


When is Chowder Most Popular?

Soup in summer? If it's chowder, absolutely. Some people are just soup people year round, but for those that aren't, chowder is one of those rare soups that people crave during the summer months. But why? Chowder is typically best served warm, not hot like many soups. The cream (notably in New England Clam Chowder) risks curdling, so it's always warm and not piping hot. Even when it's hot outside, chowder can have a cooling effect.


Then there's the seafood. Seafood has a brininess that is best enjoyed during it's peak summer season. This is a fisherman's dish afterall, and the waters are filled fishers getting the best catch during the summer months. Chowder is arguably at its best in the summer. Whether you live on the coast, or inland, chowder will bring you sea.


Let's explore some of the most common varieties of Chowder along with some fun facts about this beloved dish. >>

Regional Varieties of Chowder

1. New England Clam Chowder

Origin: New England Clam Chowder, often referred to simply as "clam chowder," originates from the northeastern United States, particularly from Massachusetts and Maine. This is what most people think of when they think of chowder.

Characteristics:

  • Base: Cream, or milk and cream-based broth, giving it a rich and velvety texture. The base is sometimes started by making a roux to thicken the broth, but not always.

  • Ingredients: Clams, diced potatoes, onions, often celery and usually salt pork or bacon for added flavor. Thyme is a common herb used in New England Clam Chowder.

  • Flavor Profile: It is known for its mild, comforting flavor with a hint of sweetness from the cream and the briny taste of clams.

Fun Fact: In 1939, Maine passed a law that prohibits the use of tomatoes in clam chowder, cementing the dish’s creamy tradition in the state’s culinary history.



2. Manhattan Clam Chowder

Origin: Manhattan Clam Chowder originated in, you guessed it, Manhattan, New York City.

Characteristics:

  • Base: It differs significantly from its New England counterpart by using a clear, tomato-based broth instead of cream.

  • Ingredients: Along with clams and potatoes, it includes tomatoes, carrots, celery, onions, and sometimes bell peppers.

  • Flavor Profile: Manhattan Clam Chowder has a tangy and slightly acidic flavor due to the tomatoes, with a hearty vegetable-forward profile.

Fun Fact: The inclusion of tomatoes in Manhattan Clam Chowder sparked a huge rivalry between New Yorkers and New Englanders, leading to debates about whether a chowder should ever contain tomatoes.


3. Rhode Island Chowder

Origin: Rhode Island Chowder hails from the smallest state in the United States, Rhode Island.

Characteristics:

  • Base: Similar to New England Clam Chowder but with a clear broth rather than a creamy one. The clear broth is traditionally made with clam broth. It's possible this may have been the earliest version of Clam Chowder.

  • Ingredients: Clams, potatoes, onions, and sometimes salt pork or bacon, like New England Clam Chowder

  • Flavor Profile: Rhode Island Chowder has a lighter and clearer broth, allowing the flavors of the clams and vegetables to shine through without the richness of cream.

Fun Fact: Rhode Island is known for its strict adherence to clam chowder traditions, particularly favoring the clear broth style over creamy variations.


4. Delaware Chowder

Origin: Delaware Seafood Chowder is a regional specialty of Delaware.

Characteristics:

  • Base: Delaware Chowder often is a seafood chowder. It typically features a creamy broth, similar to New England Clam Chowder.

  • Ingredients: In addition to clams, it often includes a variety of seafood such as crab, shrimp, and sometimes corn. Salt pork is also a star, typically being fried before adding it to the base.

  • Flavor Profile: Delaware Seafood Chowder combines the briny flavors of clams with the sweetness of crab and the savory notes of other seafood, creating a rich and satisfying dish.

Fun Fact: Delaware Seafood Chowder reflects the state's coastal heritage and the abundance of fresh seafood available in the region.


5. Long Island Clam Chowder

Origin: Long Island, NY baby!

Characteristics:

  • Base: This chowder is a blend between New England Clam Chowder and Manhattan Clam Chowder. It has a creamy and tomatoey base.

  • Ingredients: It varies, but the notable ingredients are clams, potatoes, cream and tomatoes

  • Flavor Profile: A mix of creamy and tangy. This chowder celebrates all of its heritage, being close to Manhattan but still being close to New England, as well

Fun Fact: Delaware Seafood Chowder reflects the state's coastal heritage and the abundance of fresh seafood available in the region.


The Great Chowder Debate

Chowder enthusiasts often engage in spirited debates over which style reigns supreme. New Englanders staunchly defend their creamy chowder, arguing its rich texture and delicate flavors are unparalleled. Meanwhile, advocates of Manhattan Clam Chowder celebrate its vibrant color and zesty tomato base, claiming it offers a refreshing alternative to the cream-based version. Who's right? Well, it all comes down to taste, we suppose.


What about Oyster Crackers?

Oyster crackers have a strong historical and cultural connection to New England, particularly in the context of seafood dishes, and very much so clam chowder. These salty crisp crackers were popularized in the region during the 19th century, where they became a staple companion to seafood soups and stews. No, they don't contain oysters. They're just the perfect accompaniment.


The name "oyster crackers" itself suggests their original association with oyster-based dishes, which were prevalent in New England due to the abundance of oysters along the coast. Oyster crackers were often served alongside oyster stew and later became a favored addition to clam chowder.


Over time, they have become ingrained in the culinary heritage of New England, symbolizing a regional preference for hearty, comforting dishes enjoyed during cold winters and along the coastal summers. Whenever you have bowl of Clam Chowder, a side of oyster crackers is a must.


Whether you prefer the creamy indulgence of New England Clam Chowder, the tangy zest of Manhattan Clam Chowder, or the clear simplicity of Rhode Island Chowder, there’s no denying that chowder is one of America's most iconic dishes. Celebrating regional variations is just a part of our mission. We believe at The Chef & The Dish food tells a story of history and people. Learn how to cook the world's most iconic dishes in our private 1:1 cooking classes with top chefs around the world.





ABOUT THE CHEF & THE DISH

The Chef & The Dish has chefs around the world that you video conference into your kitchen for a private 1:1 virtual cooking class. Learn how to make pasta with a chef video calling you live from Italy, Pad Thai with a chef virtually in your kitchen live from Thailand. Together you cook, share stories, laugh and make a multi course meal together. Rated 'Best Date Night,' 'Best Gifts,' and "Best Cooking Classes" by WSJ, Forbes, Vanity Fair, Martha Stewart, Rolling Stone and tens more. Transport your kitchen for the day.™