Clam Chowder with Basil Drizzle

Clam chowder, with its rich milkiness, is one of my favorite foods.  While I usually reserve it for winter time when the warmth of the chowder can thaw our cold bodies after a long day in the snow, it also pairs nicely with fresh basil which grows with wild abandon in the summer time.

So at my son’s request, and under the looming cool gray threat of afternoon thunderstorms, I knew it was time to dust off this recipe and prepare it once more.  This clam chowder is a thin soup unlike the heavy flour-thickened, clam-flavored gravy restaurants and canned soup companies typically try to pass off as a good chowder.  Potatoes, cream, bacon and herbs flavor the chowder.

Clams offer rich nutrition.

Mollusks have played a critical role in the human diet for millennia, and played a critical role in their nourishment.  Clams are strongly anti-inflammatory, and are rich in B vitamins – particularly B12.  Just a modest 3-ounce serving of clams contain 14 times the recommended daily intake for B12.  Clams are also rich in minerals – particularly iron and bone-building phosphorus.

Eating seafood is safer than not eating it.

Choosing a seafood source can be challenging: fears of ocean pollutants contaminating your food coupled with unfair labor practices and overfishing can you leave you so confounded that you choose to forego seafoods altogether; however, seafood played an enormous role in traditional cooking and even landlocked peoples often went to great lengths to secure these sacred foods for their children as well as for pregnant and nursing mothers.  You can read more about this practice in the landmark book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.

Experts like noted real food advocate Chris Kresser also outline that eating fish is still safer than not eating it at all. Chris outlines exactly why seafood plays such a critical role in health in his talk for the Real Food Summit.

Where to Buy Sustainable Seafood

We use Seafood Watch as our guide and typically purchase seafood and fish online, in bulk, from companies that only source fish and shellfish that meat the program’s rigid guidelines (see sources).

Clam Chowder with Basil Drizzle


By Jenny Published: August 6, 2012

  • Yield: 2 1/2 quarts (8 Servings)
  • Cook: 25 mins

Unlike most gravy-like chowders, this Clam Chowder is thin and milky - rich with the flavor of clams, potatoes, celery and fresh herbs. If you're using fresh clams, you'll need about 8 pounds to yield 3/4 pound clam meat.


  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 ounces bacon (chopped)
  • 1 small yellow onion (peeled and minced)
  • 4 ribs celery (sliced thin)
  • 1 pound waxy potatoes (cut into 1/4-inch dice)
  • 3/4 pound clam meat
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 6 cups chicken or fish stock
  • 2 teaspoons unrefined sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup basil leaves (tightly packed)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil


  1. Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium-high heat. When it foams, toss in chopped bacon and fry until it releases its fat and becomes crispy.
  2. Stir in onion and celery, frying until fragrant - about 6 minutes. Stir in potatoes, clams, bay and thyme and continue frying a further minute or 2. Pour in stock, salt and pepper, then simmer, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes.
  3. Prepare the basil drizzle while the soup simmers. Combine basil and olive oil in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.
  4. After the soup simmers for 20 to 30 minutes, turn off the heat and stir in heavy cream and top with basil drizzle.

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What people are saying

      • Bebe says

        Jenny, I have to share a humorous Shakespearean insult I came across today, which shows how far we have strayed from the culinary wisdom of our distant ancestors. In Henry IV, part 1, Hotspur uses the term “such a dish of skim milk” to describe a coward. Interesting that skim milk was historically a food to be looked down upon rather than elevated to the strangely superior place it holds in modern thought. Yeah for butter and cream!

  1. Diana says

    Jenny, this recipe looks amazing! Is there any way I could use sweet potatoes instead of waxy ones? I know the texture and taste will be different, but was just wondering what you thought? It is halibut season now and their carcasses make the BEST fish stock I’ve ever made!

    • jenny says

      Yes, I think that would probably work. I bet you could make a killer chowder with sweet potato + coconut milk + shrimp or a white fish. Halibut. YUM!

    • Judy says

      @Diane I love halibut too sometimes the fish chowder can be even better than clam. Dumb question: how do you get the halibut carcass?

  2. says

    Did you just say basil drizzle? Um, yum. Love whizzing basil or oregano up with oil/garlic/salt for a simple pesto and freezing in ice cube trays for future use, but I’ve never drizzled it before.

  3. Stephanie Milby says

    We are not doing dairy right now, so do you think coconut milk would taste o.k. with the clams and waxy potatoes?

  4. Reggie says

    I make a similar clam chowder but use coconut milk in a box from Trader Joe’s (same consistency as almond milk) and either add some organic corn starch or blend a bit of the potatoes and broth to get the thicker consistency. I use wild caught clams in a can, putting the contents in the blender for just a few seconds to kick up the flavor of the broth. It is yummy !

  5. says

    Wow, I would’ve never thought to pair basil with clam chowder, but it makes so much sense!

    Clams have been on my mind this week, since watching Jamie Does Venice (video:, in which he makes an easy and amazing-looking spaghetti vongole. I’d never even had clam chowder until my last trip to San Francisco, in 2009, and now I’m a convert. If I can find any decent clams around here (and I bet I can), I’m going to try this recipe. It’s like clam-and-potato soup! Brilliant!

    What you say about “eating seafood is safer than not eating it” rings very true to me. I’ve also been overwhelmed by the amount of information, the variety of sources, and the constant news about toxins and pollutants. Growing up far inland, in Texas, seafood wasn’t something I grew up with; it’s always been a bit mysterious. But your post has provided me with a great jumping off point for learning more and incorporating it into my weekly rotation–something my partner and I decided to do just a few weeks ago.

    So, thanks! Bookmarked!

  6. Desiree says

    I have some kefir and whole milk leftover I don’t want to go bad. If I used those to replace heavy cream would that change the consistency/taste for the worse???

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