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Keeping frozen corn, canned clams and clam juice on hand means spur-of-the-moment chowder in any season. If you typically compost your broccoli stems, save them for this soup--they hold up better than florets. Set out bowls of toppings like diced red bell pepper, snipped chives or more bacon.

EatingWell Magazine, March/April 2018; updated January 2023


Recipe Summary

30 mins
30 mins

Making Chowder Is My Favorite Way to Reduce Food Waste in the Kitchen

As a professional recipe developer, I think I've been asked "What is your favorite recipe to make?" at least a thousand times. My answer is generally not one people want to hear because it isn't an exact recipe, per se; it's more of a category. My favorite "recipe" to make is whatever uses up all the bits and pieces left over in the fridge. 

You might as well call me a "cook it before it goes into the compost" kind of chef— there's nothing that gives me more pleasure than creating a delicious, or at least very edible, meal from what most people would toss out.

Of all the ways you can clean out the vegetable drawer, making a soup or stew is the easiest. You can always make a brothy vegetable soup, but the secret to getting everyone to eat your fridge-clean-out soup is to use bacon and make it creamy. In other words, you need to make chowder.

I've probably made 50 different versions of chowder, depending on what's in the fridge. Chowder is typically made with a salty pork product like bacon along with celery, onion and potatoes, seafood or chicken, and something to make it creamy. If I don't have bacon, I'll use sausage. If I don't have any meat, I just skip it. The vegetables are always changing too. No onions? I'll use scallions, leeks or shallots. Turnips, butternut squash or cauliflower can stand in for the potatoes. 

Canned clams are almost always in the pantry but I've been known to use a can of salmon or leftover cod from last night's dinner. I did try a can of tuna once, and I don't recommend it. (Thank goodness we have chickens that will eat anything.) To make the soup creamy, we always have half-and-half in the fridge for coffee, but you can also use milk and bump up the flour to make it thick. Or if you happen to have cream cheese or sour cream, that'll work too.

No two chowders come out exactly the same with my save-it-from-the-trash mentality, but there is one that sticks in my mind as being particularly tasty, is this recipe. The idea came about when I once went to make chowder and realized that I was out of celery. What I did have, though, was some broccoli with very long and thick stems.

I peeled off the thick, woody exterior and chopped up the stems, then went about making the chowder per usual. The result was surprising. The broccoli stems gave the chowder a slight vegetal and earthy flavor but in a really good way. In fact, the broccoli stems are milder than celery, so if you have someone that isn't a celery fan, broccoli stems might be your best bet.

I had a plan for the broccoli florets the following day but, looking back on this recipe now, I could have used the broccoli in the soup too. If you chop up the florets, you can add them when you add the potatoes and garlic. As the broccoli cooks and softens, it'll give the soup a slight green hue.

Ooh, and if you have some Cheddar in your fridge, stir that in with your half-and-half in the last step. Now you'll have a clam chowder meets broccoli-Cheddar soup. See how easy it is to clean out your fridge when there's a hearty, creamy soup waiting on the other side?

This essay is part of our series "Sundays Are My Day for Making Soup."


Ingredient Checklist


Instructions Checklist
  • Thoroughly pat corn dry with paper towels. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the corn and cook, undisturbed, until starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer the corn to a small bowl and set aside.

  • Add bacon and oil to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is crisp, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to the bowl with the corn.

  • Add broccoli stems and onion to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 4 minutes. Add potatoes and garlic; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Sprinkle the vegetables with flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in bottled clam juice, broth and the reserved juice from the clams. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

  • Stir in clams, half-and-half, pepper and the reserved corn and bacon. Cook for 2 minutes.

Nutrition Facts

1 1/3 cups
256 calories; protein 12.1g; carbohydrates 33.4g; dietary fiber 4.5g; sugars 5.2g; fat 9.5g; saturated fat 3.1g; cholesterol 26.4mg; vitamin a iu 385.2IU; vitamin c 59.3mg; folate 78.5mcg; calcium 85.4mg; iron 2.7mg; magnesium 56.7mg; potassium 809.7mg; sodium 658.5mg.

1 1/2 starch, 1 vegetable, 1/2 lean protein, 1 1/2 fat