Dairy-Free Clam Chowder

Crafting the Perfect Dairy-Free Clam Chowder Recipe (And More!)

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Updated on May 14, 2024

Picture this: you’re cosied up on a chilly evening, craving a steaming bowl of comforting clam chowder. But alas, your dietary restrictions throw a curveball into your culinary dreams. Frustrating, isn’t it? Don’t worry, though. This classic American clam chowder recipe that I’m presenting to you today is completely dairy-free. So, don’t worry about your dietary restrictions or unpleasant trips to the toilet if you’re lactose intolerant—I got you right here.

Dairy-Free Clam Chowder Recipe

Dairy-Free Clam Chowder

Personally, seafood is my least favourite food, but if I’m given a creamy, flavourful bowl of clam chowder, I’ll inhale this thing. However, the problem of dairy remains, and the lactose intolerance ghost looms whenever I try enjoying a bowl of clam chowder. So, of course, I had to find a dairy-free recipe that would make me enjoy the creaminess of chowder and the flavour of clam at the same time.

Meet our perfect dairy-free clam chowder recipe—a recipe that is perfect for my lactose intolerant folks and those with dairy allergies. We are talking here about the New England version, but at the end of this blog, we will also include the recipes for the two other variations of clam chowder, Manhattan and Rhode Island versions, since they are essentially dairy-free as well.

A Breakdown of the Ingredients

Here is a breakdown of the ingredients in our dairy-free clam chowder recipe to help you understand why this recipe works.

Olive Oil or Dairy-Free Margarine

The choice between olive oil and dairy-free margarine serves as the foundation of the chowder’s flavour and mouthfeel. Olive oil imparts a subtle fruitiness and richness, while dairy-free margarine adds a buttery note reminiscent of traditional clam chowder. Both options provide the necessary fat to sauté the aromatics and create a flavourful base for the soup.

Onion and Garlic

These aromatic vegetables form the flavour base of the chowder, providing depth and complexity. Onions add a sweet and savoury undertone, while garlic contributes its distinctive pungency and aroma. Sautéing them, in the beginning, releases their natural sugars and enhances their flavours, elevating the overall taste of the dish.

Potatoes

Potatoes serve as the primary thickening agent and source of heartiness in New England clam chowder. Their starch content helps to naturally thicken the broth as they cook, resulting in a creamy texture without the need for dairy. Additionally, the soft, buttery texture of cooked potatoes complements the tender clams and adds satisfying substance to each spoonful.

Vegetable Broth and Water

The combination of vegetable broth and water forms the liquid base of the chowder, providing a savoury foundation for the soup’s flavours. Vegetable broth infuses the chowder with umami-rich notes, while water helps to balance the intensity of the broth and prevent it from becoming too overpowering. This combination ensures a well-rounded and flavourful broth that complements the other ingredients without overshadowing them.

Chopped Clams and Clam Juice

Chopped clams and their accompanying juice are the star ingredients of New England clam chowder, infusing the soup with their briny, oceanic essence. While fresh clams can be used if available, canned chopped clams offer convenience without sacrificing flavour. The clam juice, reserved from the cans, intensifies the seafood flavour of the broth, providing a concentrated burst of umami that enhances the overall taste of the chowder.

Bay Leaf and Dried Thyme

These aromatic herbs contribute layers of flavour and fragrance to the chowder, complementing the savoury notes of the clams and vegetables. Bay leaves impart a subtle earthiness and depth, while dried thyme adds a hint of herbal complexity. Simmering these herbs with the other ingredients allows their flavours to meld together, infusing the chowder with a rich, herbaceous aroma that is characteristic of New England clam chowder.

Salt and Pepper

Salt and pepper serve as essential seasoning agents, enhancing the flavours of the other ingredients and balancing the overall taste of the chowder. Salt heightens the natural sweetness of the onions and potatoes, while the pepper adds gentle heat and complexity to the broth. Seasoning the chowder to taste ensures that its flavours are well-balanced and harmonious, resulting in a satisfying culinary experience with every spoonful.

Unsweetened Almond Milk or Coconut Milk

These dairy-free alternatives provide the creamy texture and richness that are characteristic of New England clam chowder without the use of traditional dairy products. Unsweetened almond milk offers a subtle nutty flavour and creamy consistency, while coconut milk adds a hint of tropical sweetness and velvety smoothness. Whichever option you choose, it’s important to select an unsweetened variety to avoid imparting unwanted sweetness to the chowder.

Cornstarch or Arrowroot Powder (Optional)

Cornstarch or arrowroot powder can be used as a thickening agent to achieve the desired consistency of the chowder. While optional, they help to bind the ingredients together and create a lusciously thick texture that coats the back of a spoon. Whisking the cornstarch or arrowroot powder with almond milk or coconut milk before adding it to the chowder ensures that it disperses evenly and prevents clumping.

Chopped Fresh Parsley (Optional)

Fresh parsley serves as a vibrant and aromatic garnish, adding a pop of colour and freshness to the finished chowder. Its bright, herbaceous flavour complements the savoury richness of the soup, providing a refreshing contrast that balances the overall taste profile. While optional, a sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley adds visual appeal and a final flourish to your dairy-free New England clam chowder.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Dairy-Free Clam Chowder

Here is a step-by-step guide to help you through the cooking process as smoothly as possible:

Saute the Aromatics

Heat the olive oil or dairy-free margarine in a large pot over medium heat. Allow it to warm up until it shimmers slightly.

Add the finely chopped onion to the pot and sauté it until it becomes soft and translucent, which usually takes about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.

Once the onion is translucent, add the minced garlic to the pot. Garlic can burn quickly, so stir it continuously for about a minute until it becomes fragrant. This step infuses the chowder with aromatic flavour.

Cook the Potatoes

Stir in the diced potatoes, evenly distributing them in the pot. The potatoes will absorb the flavours of the onions and garlic as they cook.

Allow the potatoes to cook for a few minutes until they begin to soften slightly. This helps them release their starches, which will contribute to the thickening of the chowder later on.

Be careful not to overcook the potatoes at this stage, as they will continue to simmer in the broth later.

Add Liquids and Flavourings

Pour in the vegetable broth, water, and reserved clam juice from the cans. The combination of broth and clam juice infuses the chowder with a savoury seafood flavour.

Drop in the bay leaf and sprinkle in the dried thyme. These herbs add depth and complexity to the chowder’s flavour profile.

Increase the heat to bring the mixture to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Simmering allows the flavours to meld together while the potatoes continue to cook until tender.

Incorporate Clams

Once the potatoes are fork-tender, it’s time to add the star ingredient: the chopped clams. Drain the clams from the cans and add them to the pot, stirring gently to distribute them evenly.

Season the chowder with salt and pepper to taste. Remember that canned clams can vary in saltiness, so it’s best to start with a small amount of salt and adjust as needed.

Create Creamy Base

In a separate bowl, combine the unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk with the cornstarch or arrowroot powder. Whisk vigorously until the mixture is smooth and free of lumps.

Pour the milk mixture into the pot, stirring continuously to incorporate it into the chowder. This dairy-free alternative will provide the creamy texture characteristic of New England clam chowder without the use of dairy products.

Keep stirring gently as the chowder simmers, allowing the cornstarch or arrowroot powder to thicken the broth to your desired consistency. If you prefer a thicker chowder, you can add more cornstarch or arrowroot powder.

Thicken and Simmer

Allow the chowder to simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. This final simmering step allows the flavours to meld together and ensures that the chowder reaches its optimum thickness.

Keep an eye on the chowder and stir occasionally to prevent sticking or burning on the bottom of the pot.

Adjust Seasoning and Serve

Taste the chowder and adjust the seasoning with additional salt and pepper if necessary. You can also add more dried thyme or other herbs to enhance the flavour.

Once the chowder reaches your desired consistency and flavour, remove it from the heat and discard the bay leaf.

Ladle the dairy-free New England clam chowder into bowls, garnish with chopped fresh parsley if desired, and serve hot alongside crusty bread or oyster crackers for a cosy and satisfying meal.

The Manhattan and Rhode Island Versions

Dairy-Free Clam Chowder

If you are looking for a naturally dairy-free clam chowder recipe, then buckle up for these two versions.

While New England clam chowder is renowned for its creamy texture and comforting taste, Manhattan clam chowder offers a bold and zesty twist with its tomato-based broth and vibrant vegetable medley. This means that it is the perfect dish for getting your daily vegetable intake.

On the other hand, Rhode Island clam chowder takes a simpler approach, focusing on the purity of the clam flavour without the addition of dairy or tomatoes. The absence of dairy and tomatoes allows the natural flavours of the clams and vegetables to shine through, resulting in a lighter and more delicate chowder with a pronounced seafood flavour.

There are many other versions of clam chowder, but we are going to focus on the Manhattan and Rhode Island versions today.

Manhattan Clam Chowder Recipe

Dairy-Free Clam Chowder

Here is our recipe for the perfect bowl of Manhattan clam chowder that will hit all the right spots:

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes with juices
  • 3 cups vegetable broth or clam juice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cans (about 6.5 ounces each) of chopped clams, drained, with juice reserved
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
  • Lemon wedges for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the minced garlic and cook for an additional minute until fragrant.
  3. Stir in the diced carrots, celery, and red bell pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables start to soften.
  4. Add the diced potatoes to the pot, along with the diced tomatoes (with their juices), vegetable broth or clam juice, bay leaves, dried thyme, dried oregano, salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer, covered, for about 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
  5. Once the potatoes are cooked, stir in the chopped clams (reserving some for garnish if desired) and their juice. Simmer for an additional 5 minutes to heat through.
  6. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper if necessary.
  7. Remove the bay leaves from the pot and discard them.
  8. Ladle the Manhattan clam chowder into bowls, garnish with chopped fresh parsley and reserved chopped clams, if desired.
  9. Serve hot with lemon wedges on the side for squeezing over the chowder, if desired.

Rhode Island Clam Chowder Recipe

Dairy-Free Clam Chowder

If you want to keep it simple and feel like you’re swimming in a bowl of pure ocean bliss while on a dairy-free diet, then try this Rhode Island version of the clam chowder:

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 3 cups clam juice or fish stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cans (about 6.5 ounces each) of chopped clams, drained, with juice reserved
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
  • Lemon wedges for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the minced garlic and cook for an additional minute until fragrant.
  3. Stir in the diced celery and carrots. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables start to soften.
  4. Add the diced potatoes to the pot, along with the clam juice or fish stock, bay leaves, dried thyme, salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer, covered, for about 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
  5. Once the potatoes are cooked, stir in the chopped clams (reserving some for garnish if desired) and their juice. Simmer for an additional 5 minutes to heat through.
  6. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper if necessary.
  7. Remove the bay leaves from the pot and discard them.
  8. Ladle the Rhode Island clam chowder into bowls and garnish with chopped fresh parsley and reserved chopped clams, if desired.
  9. Serve hot with lemon wedges on the side for squeezing over the chowder, if desired.

A Summary of Our Dairy-Free Clam Chowder Recipe

Dairy-Free Clam Chowder

Here is a summary and a recap of our dairy-free clam chowder recipe:

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or dairy-free margarine
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 medium potatoes, diced
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cans (about 6.5 ounces each) of chopped clams, drained, with juice reserved
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot powder (optional for thickening)
  • Chopped fresh parsley for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil or dairy-free margarine in a large pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for an additional minute until fragrant.
  2. Stir in the diced potatoes and cook for a few minutes, allowing them to slightly soften.
  3. Pour in the vegetable broth, water, and reserved clam juice from the cans. Add the bay leaf and dried thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer until the potatoes are tender for about 15-20 minutes.
  4. Once the potatoes are cooked, add the drained chopped clams to the pot. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together the unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk with the cornstarch or arrowroot powder until smooth. Pour this mixture into the pot, stirring well to combine.
  6. Allow the chowder to simmer for another 5-10 minutes or until it has thickened to your desired consistency.
  7. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Serve the dairy-free clam chowder hot, garnished with chopped fresh parsley if desired.

With these three dairy-free clam chowder recipes, you can enjoy a hot bowl of these delightful and flavourful soups without compromising your health or your taste buds. Let us know in the comments how these recipes turned out for you when you tried them!

FAQs

1. Can I make clam chowder without using dairy products?

Yes, you can make a dairy-free clam chowder by substituting dairy milk with non-dairy alternatives like almond milk or coconut milk.

3. How long does it take to cook a dairy-free clam chowder?

The cooking time for this dairy-free clam chowder recipe takes around 30-45 minutes from start to finish.

4. Does chowder have to be cream-based?

No, chowder does not have to be cream-based. While cream-based chowders, such as New England clam chowder, are perhaps the most well-known and widely enjoyed, there are several variations of chowder that feature different bases and flavour profiles, such as the Manhattan and Rhode Island clam chowders.

5. Can I use canned clams for the dairy-free clam chowder?

Yes, you can use canned clams for convenience when making your dairy-free clam chowder. Just be sure to drain them before adding them to the soup.

6. Is the taste of a dairy-free clam chowder different from traditional clam chowders?

The taste of a dairy-free clam chowder may be slightly different from traditional versions due to the absence of cream or butter. However, it can still be delicious and flavourful with the right combination of seasonings and ingredients.

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