Barefoot Contessa: Clam Chowder ‘Won’t Be the Same’ Without 1 Ingredient, According to Ina Garten

Ina Garten’s secret to really good clam chowder? Nothing surprising, just a handful of simple ingredients that make all the difference. While making her East Hampton Clam Chowder recipe, the Food Network star advised Barefoot Contessa viewers to opt for fresh ingredients, especially when it comes to clam juice. 

Ina Garten’s clam chowder starts with sautéed onions

'Barefoot Contessa' star Ina Garten laughs while wearing an all-black outfit and a pattern scarf. She is holding a microphone onstage.
Ina Garten | Brad Barket/Getty Images for The New Yorker

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The Modern Comfort Food author’s East Hampton Clam Chowder begins like so many other Barefoot Contessa soups. Garten starts by sautéing onions in a pan with butter. 

“I think the base of any good soup is onions,” she said on Barefoot Contessa, according to a clip on Food Network’s YouTube channel. Garten likes them to be “sautéed really slowly so they get really caramelized and have lots of flavor.”

A simple start to Garten’s take on a classic dish, she later adds celery, carrots, and potatoes to the pan. All together they become the base for her clam chowder. As she so often says on Barefoot Contessa, how easy is that?

Fresh clams and fresh clams juice are a must in Ina Garten’s clam chowder recipe

There are certain instances where, as Garten says, “store-bought is fine.” Marinara sauce and puff pastry, sure. But not certain ingredients for her clam chowder. The cooking show host recommends using fresh clams and fresh clam juice. 

“You just can’t make clam chowder without clams and fresh clam juice,” Garten said on Barefoot Contessa as she pulled the ingredients out of the fridge. “Well, you could probably use bottled clam juice but it just won’t be the same.” 

Want to make clam chowder the Barefoot Contessa way? Stick to what Garten says and skip the bottled clam juice. Use only fresh clams and fresh clam juice. 

How to make Ina Garten’s East Hampton Clam Chowder

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As previously mentioned, the Barefoot Contessa starts her East Hampton Clam Chowder by sautéing onions. While they’re cooking, she chops celery, carrots, and potatoes. Then she tosses them in the pan with the onions to sauté for a few more minutes.

Meanwhile, Garten chops fresh thyme. Again, this is another moment where the cookbook author recommends fresh. 

“You can use dried herbs but fresh herbs are so much better,” she said. “And if you have any left over you can just stripe them off the stems and just freeze them and use them another time.” 

Garten adds the fresh thyme to the pan and sprinkles the vegetables with salt and pepper, noting that it’s “important to season things as you go along.” Next she pours the fresh clam juice in the pot with the vegetables. 

While it comes to a boil Garten makes a roux — a thick white sauce made of flour and butter — in another pan. “What it’s going to do is enrich and thicken the soup,” she explained.

Once it’s done she adds hot broth to the roux before combining the mixture with the soup. Next she adds chunks of fresh clams and milk. Once the clams are cooked, Garten sprinkles the soup with a little more salt and pepper and her clam chowder is done.