What To Serve With Clam Chowder? [Main & Side Dishes]

Chowder in America is as iconic as apple pie. Every region has its favorite, and the best recipes are the ones mom made. And when you begin to look at the chowders, you realize that these one-pot meals, somewhere between a soup and a stew, can be quite different, most notably in the broth.  Some are cream-based like New England style, and others are tomato or broth-based like Manhattan and Rhode Island style.  

So that means that many of the side dishes you would serve with your cream chowders would not be ideal for Manhattan or Rhode Island chowder.  But with a bit of creativity, there is a whole host of sides to make this a memorable meal that the entire family will enjoy.

Some of the best side dishes for Manhattan and Rhode Island chowders are ones to complement to prominent seafood flavor of the soup.  Crusty bread, fresh, crisp steamed vegetables, robust lettuce salads with vinaigrettes are perfect complements.  For a beverage, light tangy white wines are necessary.  Citrus is the perfect flavor for dessert, and lemon bars or a pineapple-upside-down cake would be my first choice.  

If you’re serving Manhattan or Rhode Island clam chowder as a side dish, you can pair it with steamed mussels, baked salmon, or even a plate of spicey cured hams. For a decadent treat, sure to please your clam-loving friends, try serving clam fritters as a delicious protein-based accompaniment.

Manhattan And Rhode Island Style Chowders

Chowders were a typical shipboard fare and perfectly adaptable to the maritime climate and abundance of vegetables the earlier American settlers found. While New England, with its grassy pastures and dairy production, gravitated towards a cream-based chowder.  

Manhattan And Rhode Island Style Chowders

Rhode Island chowders, however, highlight the variety of clams in their coastal waters with a clear clam broth base.  With its distinctive tomato addition, Manhattan clam chowder celebrates the tastes of 19-century immigrant Portuguese and Italian settlers to New York.

Side-Dishes For Manhattan And Rhode Island Clam Chowder

But when you’re serving a clam-based broth or one with added tomatoes, you’ll need different side dishes than when you serve the New England or cream-based chowders. These chowders have a more substantial seafood and ocean flavor, so you’ll need to choose side dishes that highlight and enhance these one-pot meals.

Toppings

I love giving my family and friends choices with their meals. It’s fun to set out a variety of little bowls and see how everyone creates their own work of art.

1.Crackers & Croutons

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Oyster crackers are the most traditional. But I also enjoy grabbing a few saltine crackers and crumbling them in my hands, and sprinkling them on the soup. It’s that same satisfying sensation as popping bubble wrap, but this one is eatable.

Croutons are another choice for toppings, especially if you don’t like the waterlogged texture of submerged crackers. Croutons usually float on the top and stay crispy longer.

2.Cured Meats

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For a special treat, add a small bowl of chopped cured meat, like capicola or salami, to the table and see how fast it disappears. Make sure to ask at the deli counter for ½ inch thick slices, and you can easily cube it at home.

Crispy Breads

While a large variety of bread is recommended for soup, some are better than others with these broth-based chowders. Crispy bread, like an Italian ciabatta, or crispy french rolls would be perfect, and its chewy texture is a nice contrast to the soft clams and vegetables. And if you enjoy dunking or sopping up the broth, these breads will soak up the flavors without falling apart.

Vegetables 

Even though these chowders are full of stewed vegetables, it’s nice to have other vegetables for color and texture.

3.Steamed Vegetables

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Steamed vegetables are an excellent choice to serve with Manhattan and Rhode Island chowders because steaming helps to keep their color and texture.  Corn on the cobb would be a wonderful addition for summertime, and green beans or a vegetable medley with a generous drizzle of olive oil would be a perfect side dish all year round.

4.Crisp Lettuce Salads

Try a nutrient-rich salad with hearty greens like kale, frisèe, spinach, or peppery arugula for an even faster vegetable side dish. Because the chowders’ broth has a prominent taste of the sea, it’s better to choose stronger-tasting lettuce. The flavors will balance each other, and with a light vinaigrette and thinly sliced bell peppers, you’ll have a complete weeknight meal ready in moments.

Beverages

Beverages to complement the tastes of the sea can be tricky, but with a bit of consideration, there are a lot of choices.

5.Lemon Tea And Lemonade

Lemon is a winning combination with seafood, and especially clams. The slight acidity and the fresh citrus balance the intense ocean flavors.

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But be careful with the sugar. If your tea or lemonade has an intense sweetener, then the sugar will clash with the clams — yuk!  Finding a low-sugar one may be challenging, but it’s easy to make your own. Buy a lemon and squeeze it into freshly brewed tea — it lasts in the fridge for at least two days. You can do the same for lemonade; just add a little simple syrup to your lemon juice and water.

6.Tangy White Wines

Most seafood pairs exceptionally well with buttery wines; however, seafood, especially clams has a different flavor profile. The salty minerality of the clams call for a different approach.

Three of my favorites with clams are a dry Reisling, French Muscadet, or Spanish White Rioja. Some more full-bodied than others, all three of these wines have a noticeable acidity and dryness. The flavors are crisp and usually have hints of melon and lemon.  

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Dry Rieslings,  Muscadets, and Rioja Blanco will enhance the flavors of both Manhattan clam chowder and Rhode Island clam chowder, but don’t try them with New England or cream-based chowders.

7.Ales

But if beer is more your style, you’re in luck here too.  The image of a seafarer on shore with a pint of frothy foamy ale is too strong not to mention. And there’s a reason it’s a perfect pairing.

Most ales today are brewed with hops, a flower that grows on a vine. Hops add the distinctively floral, earthy herbal, and citrus flavors that pair incredibly well with shellfish.  

Desserts

Keeping with the citrus notes, I can imagine a perfect end to a Manhattan or Rhode Island clam chowder dinner having something that highlights lemons or pineapple.

My family would undoubtedly opt for my Grandmother Rita’s famous lemon bar recipe. But even a store box brand would pair nicely.

For a more international flavor, try making a lemon ricotta cake. Recipes are easy to find, and it’s quick to make. It’s a little heavier than a sponge cake, doesn’t require special baking techniques, and doesn’t even need frosting. This moist cake is perfect with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Another family favorite and an easy do-ahead dessert is pineapple upside cake. The warm earthy caramel and tart pineapples would please both the young and the young at heart.

Main Courses For Manhattan And Rhode Island Clam Chowder

Unlike the creamy chowders commonly served as main courses, Manhattan and Rhode Island clam chowder would pair exceptionally well with other foods when served as a first course. The broth is light enough and the vegetables small enough that a small bowl would be an excellent beginning to a multi-course meal.  

Following up a bowl of Manhattan chowder with fish, shellfish, and even cured meats would be a delicious progression to the meal.

8.Baked Salmon

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Two things you can count on at a seafood restaurant are chowder and salmon. But I think salmon as a main course is better with the lighter broth chowders. I like salmon’s buttery, flakey texture and don’t want the flavors overpowered by my velvety cream soup.

9.Fritters And Fried Seafood

Introduced globally by ancient Spanish and Portuguese mariners, fritters would be an ideal pairing for the Portuguese-inspired Manhattan clam chowder.  Clam fritters (or sometimes called clam cakes) with its crisp, fried dough with a chewy clam center would be a meal to remember. 

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Most people like to dip them in their clam chowder, but if you’re like my family, the tarter sauce and ketchup will make it’s way to the table as well. 

10.Steamed Mussels

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If you’re lucky enough to have a store that will de-beard your mussels, you’ll have dinner ready in moments.  When you bring your live mussels home, place them in a bowl of cold salty water with cornmeal to make them spit out the sand.  When you’re ready for dinner, drain, rinse and steam them in a lidded pot with some wine. In moments, they’ll spring open, and dinner is ready.

Final Words

Manhattan and Rhode Island clam chowders are soups that have been unappreciated over the years, mainly because dinners expect a steamy bowl of their creamy cousin, New England clam chowder.  And many people forget that side dishes, better suited for a silky buttery both, don’t always pair well with the briny flavors of these chowders.

Toppings that stay crisp are ideal for these broth-based chowders. Croutons, bacon and cubed salamis are perfect. Side dishes such as steamed vegetables and robust lettuce salads add both color and nutrition.

And to round out the meal, chewy, crisp bread such a ciabatta would hold together — just in case you decided to dunk it in your soup.

You can also include some unique wines and beer for a special chowder evening. Drier, more acidic wines like Riesling, Muscadet, and white Riojas would certainly elevate any broth-based chowder dinner. 

For beer drinkers, choose from a variety of ales. And a lemon-flavored tea or lightly sweetened lemonade would be an excellent beverage for every day.

For an after-dinner treat, you’ll be sure to hit the mark with a citrus-based dessert, especially lemon or pineapple.

Just remember, chowders don’t have to be cream-based, and once you pivot both your expectations and pairing choices to highlight the fresh ocean taste, your family will be asking you to make these iconic chowders over and over.

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