One of Charlie and my signature meals on the island is a cup of creamy New England clam chowder at Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Company alongside fries and a hard cider.
The restaurant itself is pretty standard sports bar fried seafood fare, but the chowder is actually the best you will ever eat. If you like a gloppy heavy broth, it might not be for you. But if you prefer flavor first and foremost, and a generous clam to potato ratio, it does not disappoint. Also, unlike most of its thick creamy cousins, this chowder is gluten-free.
I’ve been meaning to recreate this homemade New England clam chowder for years, and have even gone so far as to call the restaurant multiple times to ask the ingredients. But they are sly devils and refused each time to reveal the secret recipe.
My expert opinion is that what makes it special is the addition of lots of different alliums and vegetables: the usual onion, along with celery, shallot, fennel, leek and lots of thyme. When you make this healthy chowder recipe, you may be surprised by the massive pile of veggies added to the pot. But it all melts down into the soup beautifully.
To make this dairy-free in addition to gluten-free, I subbed full-fat coconut milk for heavy cream. Since it tends to be a little thinner in texture, even with the starch of the potatoes, I added a little arrowroot starch to thicken it. You can omit this if you don’t have any on hand. Because the second healthy trick for thickening this New England clam chowder recipe is to simply puree a few cups of it (potatoes and all) and add it back into the pot. I picked up this idea from Gina Homolka in her recipe here.
If you’re someone who likes bacon in their chowder, you can easily start by browning two slices before adding the alliums to the pan. Remove it and crumple the cooked bacon into the finished soup so it stays crispy.
The easiest method for the clams is to simply use chopped canned clams. They also have a surprising amount of juices packed into each vessel, which you’ll want to take advantage of. My favorite way to do this is to simply open each can halfway and stream the juices directly into the pot when the clam juice is called for. Then just toss in the remaining clams later on so they don’t overcook.
Our beloved MV chowder company was closed for all of 2020, so we were left dreaming of their chowder for many dark months. This healthy clam chowder recipe will be a game changer should any natural disasters or global pandemics keep us from our favorite chowder. Or at the very least, when we are craving something similar without the cream.
With health and hedonism,
Healthy Clam Chowder with All the Alliums (Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
- 1 fennel bulb finely diced
- 1 leek finely sliced
- 1 large shallot finely diced
- 1 small yellow onion finely diced
- 2 celery stalks finely diced
- 1 pound russet potato peeled and cut into small cubes (approx. 3 cups)
- 1 tablespoon arrowroot starch
- One 15-ounce can coconut milk
- ½ cup white wine
- 8 ounces clam juice
- Two 6.5 oz cans clams drained, juice reserved
- Sea salt and black pepper
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme or 4 sprigs fresh
- 2 tablespoons fresh chives thinly sliced
In a large Dutch oven or stockpot, heat the oil or butter over medium heat. Add the fennel, leek, shallot, onion and celery to the pan. Sauté until the vegetables are very soft, but not beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Fold in the potatoes and sprinkle with arrowroot starch. Cook 2 minutes more.
Pour in the coconut milk, white wine, and clam juice (both bottle and canned). Season with 1 teaspoon salt, black pepper and the thyme. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 15 minutes stirring occasionally, or until the potatoes are tender.
With a stand or immersion blender, puree 2 cups of soup (or roughly 1/4 of the pot) until smooth. Reincorporate into the rest of the soup—it will immediately thicken. Fold in the reserved clams and cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes more.
Ladle the clam chowder into bowls and garnish with the chives and more fresh black pepper.