This Instant Pot Clam Chowder has a super creamy base, tender potatoes, carrots, celery, and onion, seasoned with fresh thyme and made even richer with the addition of bacon.
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You might not think you can make Instant Pot Clam Chowder, but it will turn out so good that you’ll be wondering why you’ve never tried it before. In fact, using the Instant Pot to make potatoes is probably one of my favorite things to use it for because they turn out perfectly tender every time. Why should this soup, which is potato heavy, be any different.
It takes just 4 minutes, plus 3 minutes of depressurizing, to cook this soup. So simple. And you can make double the amount to serve more people. It’s a really great way to make clam chowder.
What is Clam Chowder?
If you’ve ever been to the coastline of America, you’ve probably already fallen in love with clam chowder. But for those of you who haven’t had this privilege, you might be wondering what it is exactly. Outside of the U.S., it’s not really likely that you’ll find this soup on the menu.
Clam Chowder is a creamy soup that contains clams, potatoes, and a few vegetables and often bacon. It’s the New England version of a soup that can also be made with a tomato base, which is called Manhattan Clam Chowder.
It’s a very popular coastal soup that you can find in just about any beach town in America, but probably slightly more prevalent on the West Coast.
Ingredients You’ll Need
If you have access to super fresh seafood, or you can gather your own, fresh clams are a great addition to this soup. You can also use canned clams. The other ingredients are fairly typical soup ingredients.
- Potatoes – You’ll need about 3 cups of diced potatoes. I like to use both gold potatoes and russet potatoes to add textural differences. The gold potatoes will be more soft and russet more firm. I take the skins off the russets, but not the gold because they’re so thin. If you want to only use one variety, that’s fine too.
- Bacon – A high quality smoky bacon gives great flavor to this soup.
- Butter – I use salted butter.
- Onion, celery, carrot, garlic – This is a necessary flavor combination that you really can’t skip. I see a lot of recipes without carrots but I really think it’s a shame to leave them out because they add sweetness.
- Salt and pepper – Potatoes soak up a lot of salt, so you might need more than what is called for in the recipe. Give the soup a taste and if it’s not seasoned enough, add more salt. It will really elevate the flavor.
- Fresh thyme – Fresh is definitely the best way to go because it has so much more flavor, but if you must you can use dried thyme or oregano.
- 2 cups liquid – You need 2 cups of liquid in the soup. Some of this will come from the clam juice you strain from the clams. Put that strained liquid in a measuring cup and then fill it to 2 cups with either more clam juice or water or fish/chicken stock.
- Chopped clams – You can use fresh clams that have been cleaned and shucked. Chop them roughly before adding to the soup. It’s usually easier for most of us to buy canned or jarred clams. The most typical size is a 6.5 ounce can. If you can only find a different, size just try to match the amount.
- Heavy cream – For me, clam chowder is meant to be sinfully creamy. That’s why heavy cream is the only choice for me. If you don’t mind, you can also use half and half, but remember not to boil the soup once you’ve added the half and half or it might break and become clumpy.
- Cornstarch – Since this soup doesn’t start with a roux to make it thicker, you might want to add some thickening agent to the soup at the end of cooking. A 1:1 mix of cornstarch and water will thicken it well, if you find it too thin for your liking.
How to Make Instant Pot Clam Chowder
Turn on saute mode on the Instant Pot. Add the bacon when the pot is still cool and cook until the fat is rendered. It will take about 5 minutes. Remove the bacon from the pot but leave the grease in the pot.
Add the butter, onion, carrots, and celery. Sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. You don’t want the garlic to burn or it will put off a pungent smell and bitter taste.
Scrape the bottom of the pot with a spatula to remove the browned bits. Add in the potatoes and 2 of the sprigs of thyme.
Turn off saute mode. You might need to do this earlier if the pot is getting too hot or you get the burn notice. You won’t want to burn the bits on the bottom.
Drain the clam juice into a liquid measuring cup. Fill it to 2 cups with water or additional clam juice. Pour the clam juice mixture into the pot. Add the bacon and lock on the lid. Set the vent to sealing.
Pressure cook for 4 minutes on high. When done, allow the pressure to release for 3 minutes, then manually release remaining pressure. Open the lid and stir.
Using a potato masher, mash some of the potatoes to thicken the soup, leaving some potato chunks for texture. If you’ve used only gold potatoes, they will likely break down and melt into the soup. Russet potatoes hold their shape better.
Turn back on saute mode (on low if possible). Add in the clams and cream. Simmer until warmed through. To thicken more, add optional cornstarch mixed with water, and stir the soup until thickened. Taste and season as necessary. Serve with additional fresh thyme on top.
Why Use An Instant Pot?
The Instant Pot is one of the most useful kitchen appliances you can buy, because it drastically cuts down on the cooking time for developing flavors in soups and stews, getting tough cuts of meat tender, and even baking a cheesecake. And there are many accessories that will help you get more out of your Instant Pot.
Tips & Suggestions for the Best Outcome
You’ll want to chop the vegetables and potatoes into roughly the same size pieces so they are uniform and are able to cook at the same rate.
To save time, you can chop the veggies while you’re sautéing the bacon in the Instant Pot. It will take about 5 minutes for each of these tasks.
You will use the liquid for the canned clams, so don’t drain it out. Pour it into a measuring cup to be added to the soup. You need a total of 2 cups of liquid, so you can add to it with water or additional clam juice. You can buy clam juice (without clams) in a jar.
This soup always needs more salt than I think it will. That’s because the potatoes soak up a lot of salt and need a lot for flavor. Once the soup is done, be sure to taste it and adjust the seasoning until it’s got a nice bright flavor. If it tastes only so/so, add more salt!
If the chowder isn’t thick enough for you, add a bit of corn starch and water. Start with 1 tablespoon of corn starch mixed with 1 tablespoon of cold water. Add it to the hot chowder and stir to thicken.
If you use half and half instead of cream, be sure not to boil the soup with the half and half in it, or it might break and curdle. This won’t happen with full cream.
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Easy Instant Pot Clam Chowder
Note: Made in a 6-qt Instant Pot
- 4 slices bacon chopped
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 onion chopped
- 2 stalks celery chopped
- 1 small carrot chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 3 cups gold potatoes skinned and diced (about 1.25 pounds)
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 cups water or clam juice & reserved clam juice
- 2 6.5 oz cans chopped clams juice reserved
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water optional
- Turn on saute mode on the Instant Pot. When hot, add the bacon and cook until the fat is rendered. Remove from pot.
- Add the butter, onion, carrot, and celery. Sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Scrape the bottom of the pot with a spatula to remove the browned bits. Add in the potatoes and 2 of the sprigs of thyme.
- Turn off saute mode.
- Drain the clam juice into a liquid measuring cup. Fill with water or additional clam juice to 2 cups. Pour the clam juice mixture into the pot. Add the bacon and lock on the lid. Set the vent to sealing.
- Pressure cook for 4 minutes on high. When done, allow the pressure to release for 3 minutes, then manually release remaining pressure. Open the lid and stir.
- Using a potato masher, mash some of the potatoes to thicken the soup, leaving some potato chunks for texture.
- Turn back on saute mode (on low if possible). Add in the clams and cream. Simmer until warmed through. To thicken more, add optional cornstarch mixed with water, and stir the soup until thickened. Taste and season as necessary. Serve with additional fresh thyme on top.
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Laura spends a lot of her time cooking and creating recipes to share. She loves traveling and learning about new foods around the world to bring into her own recipes at home.