Clam chowder is any of several chowders containing clams and broth. Along with the clams, diced potato is common, as are onions, which are occasionally sauteed in the drippings from salt pork or bacon. Celery is frequently used. Other vegetables are uncommon, but small carrot strips might occasionally be added, primarily for color. A garnish of parsley serves the same purpose. Bay leaves are also sometimes used as a garnish and flavoring. It is believed that clams were added to chowder because of the relative ease of harvesting them.
It is often served in restaurants on Fridays in order to provide a seafood option for those who abstain from meat every Friday, which once was a requirement for Catholics before liturgical changes in Vatican II. Though the period of strict abstinence from meat on Fridays was reduced to Lent, the year-round tradition of serving it on Fridays remains.
Primary variants and styles
New England clam chowder is a milk- or cream-based chowder, commonly made with potatoes, onion, and clams. Including tomatoes is shunned; a 1939 bill making tomatoes in clam chowder illegal was introduced in the Maine legislature. It is occasionally referred to as Boston Clam Chowder in the Midwest.
It is usually accompanied with oyster crackers (similar to hardtack). Crown Pilot Crackers were a popular brand of cracker to accompany chowder, until the product was discontinued in 2008. Crackers may be crushed and mixed into the soup for thickener, or used as a garnish.