There comes a point during a Boston winter when there’s only one dish that will do. On those bitterest of snowy days, a steamy, creamy bowl of New England clam chowder makes total sense.
Yet, the true-blue Bostonian orders chowder year round, even during summer’s high heat and humidity. Wise chefs keep it as a permanent menu fixture, knowing that riots would surely ensue should it be removed.
The traditional New England clam chowder is cream or milk based, with a mirepoix of onion and celery sweated in salt pork and thickened with diced potato. It is served with oyster crackers or saltines, not bread, and usually garnished with parsley or some greenery to give colour. All of which compliments the star of this show: fresh chewy clam.
Some chefs create variations; some good, some not. Some chowders are thinner and may have corn added, echoing pre-European Native American quahog (giant clam) broths. Some are served in a bread bowl (San Franciscan style). Some overdose in bacon, drowning out the clam flavour, creating ham not clam chowder (ham fisted style!).
Here are five of the best New England clam chowders to enjoy during a visit to Boston, come snow or sunshine.
Artisan Bistro is the day-to-night, chic-casual restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton near Boston Common. The creamy chowder has tender, waxy Yukon gold potatoes, a generous amount of chewy clam, and a fragrant pecan wood smoked bacon.
Across the river in Cambridge, The Hourly Oyster House in Harvard Square is a relative newcomer to the area, but sticks to tradition with a classic chowder that’s superbly packed with lots of clam, has a hint of bacon flavour, and house-made saltine crackers.
At the magnificent Fairmont Copley Plaza’s glittering restaurant, the menu reads “chowdah,” playfully riffing on the Boston accent. But it’s a supreme edition with Littleneck clams, fingerling potatoes and giant, wonderfully crunchy house-made oyster crackers.
Post 390 is located in the popular Back Bay neighbourhood and overlooks Trinity Church and the Hancock Tower. It has fireplaces aglow during cold weather, creating perfect hygge, especially with the ultimate comfort food: Super creamy thick chowder topped with a crisp parsley garnish.
The Boston Sail Loft is immensely popular with locals. Make like a local with this small tavern’s creamy, clammy chowder, enjoyed right on the waterfront in the North End by Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park, a glorious place to hang out in summer. Chowder in summer? But, of course.