There’s New England Clam Chowder
— it’s white.
My first New England clam chowder in New England in 30 years

Photo by lucylarou

There’s Manhattan Clam Chowder
— it’s red.
Manhattan Clam Chowder

Photo by alexa627

Which is better or which came first … that’s a battle way bigger than this blog, and not one we’d bother trying to create a peace for.

Today’s forray into cultural cuisine brings us to the smallest state in the union, Rhode Island, and their unique take on chowder.

Every war — even a chowder war — needs a neutral party

Hardcore Rhode Islanders stay out of the white vs. red chowder debate. Consider them the isolationist Switzerland in this fracas. They’ve created something completed different– the clear broth chowder.

Eschewing the tomato base of Manhattan and the heavy cream of the other New England states, Rhode Island chowder uses clear broth as its base and lets the seafood, potatoes, and onions build most of the flavor of this regional oddity.

Real flavor prevails

How exactly did the clear broth take hold in this small corner of the country while the cream-based style consumed the rest of the New England region?

Some say it was the prevalence of the quahog. This immensely flavorful hard-shelled clam is plentiful off Rhode Island’s shores and is common in local chowders. Local seafood purists — as legend would have it — loved the flavor so much, that they felt drowning the clams in cream & butter or tomato sauce, would mask the quahog flavor. Therefore, Rhode Island chowder is much heavier on seafood flavor than their New England or Manhattan counterparts due to the plain base.

Little Neck Clams by Ken Hammond

Little Neck Clams by Ken Hammond

Can I capture the Rhode Island flavor at home?

Yes. Fortunately, with modern shipping techniques, rich, flavorful New England clams are available across the country. While it may not be exactly the the same as you’d get on the Rhode Island shore, it’s pretty simple to do in your own kitchen.

Check with your local fishmonger to see if you can get real quahogs, but any clam variety works in this recipe.

Rhode Island Clam Chowder


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 ounces salt pork, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1 cup chopped celery (about 3 stalks)
  • 4 cups red bliss potatoes (about 1¼ pounds), cut into ½-inch dice, peeled or unpeeled, your choice
  • the prepared meat of 10 to 12 clams
  • 2 cups clam juice
  • thyme, 1 teaspoon fresh or ½ teaspoon dried
  • water, to cover
  • salt
  • black pepper, freshly ground


  1. Cut clams into bite-sized pieces if necessary.
  2. In skillet, saute salt pork and onion until golden brown; drain.
  3. Put into slow cooker with clams. Add all remaining ingredients.
  4. Cover and cook on high 3 to 4 hours or until vegetables are tender.
  5. Top each serving with a little chopped parsley and serve with oyster crackers or crusty French bread.
Rhode Island Clear Clam Chowder at Champlin's Seafood Deck

Photo by Michiey