Creamy clam chowder that packs flavor, not pounds

Decadent cream-based soups are some of my favorite candidates for EatingWell's makeover treatment. I love a good challenge and creamy soups are typically loaded with saturated fat and calories precisely because of that quality we love about them: their creaminess. In most cases it's achieved with (what else?) cream and butter.

But there's no reason it has to be that way. You can get all the creaminess of a traditional version of a cream-based soup, with a fraction of the fat and calories. In fact there are more than a dozen fabulous creamy soup recipes packed into our soon-to-be-released new book, Comfort Foods Made Healthy. Some of our favorite creamy classics made healthy include Creamy Porcini Barley Soup, Cheddar-Ale Soup and Corn & Bacon Chowder.

Here are some of the tricks that we used to make these soups creamy and rich, while keeping them healthy:

  • Use reduced-fat milk thickened with flour.
  • Use just a touch of cream or butter for flavor.
  • Stir reduced-fat sour cream into a soup at the end to add the perfect creamy richness it needs.
  • For pureed soups adding a small amount of rice to the soup gives it a creamy, thick, satisfying consistency.
  • Potatoes, especially floury ones like russets, pureed into soups make them thick and creamy without the saturated fat.

One of my favorite creamy soups from the new book is this fabulous, easy version of New England Clam Chowder. Chopped clams, aromatic vegetables and creamy potatoes blended with low-fat milk and just a half cup of cream gives this chunky New England-style clam chowder plenty of rich body. Serve with oyster crackers and a tossed salad to make it a meal.

New England Clam Chowder

2 teaspoons canola oil
4 slices bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
1 medium red potato, diced
1 8-ounce bottle clam juice (see Makeover Tip, below)
1 bay leaf
3 cups low-fat milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 ounces fresh clam strips (see Shopping Tip, below), chopped, or 3 6-ounce cans chopped baby clams, rinsed
2 scallions, thinly sliced

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until crispy, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer half of the cooked bacon to a paper towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon. Add onion, celery and thyme to the pan; cook, stirring, until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add potato, clam juice and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the vegetables are just tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
2. Whisk milk, cream, flour and salt in a medium bowl. Add to the pan and return to a simmer, stirring, over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Add clams and cook, stirring occasionally, until the clams are just cooked through, about 3 minutes more.
3. To serve, discard bay leaf. Ladle into bowls and top each serving with some of the reserved bacon and scallions.

Makes 6 servings, generous 1 cup each.

Per serving: 253 calories; 13 g fat (6 g sat, 4 g mono); 59 mg cholesterol; 20 g carbohydrate; 16 g protein; 1 g fiber; 585 mg sodium; 392 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Iron (50% daily value), Vitamin C (23% dv), Calcium (21% dv), Vitamin A (17% dv).

Makeover tip: Check sodium carefully when using clam juice because the amount of sodium can vary dramatically between brands. We use Bar Harbor clam juice with only 120 mg sodium per 2-ounce serving.

Shopping tip: Look for fresh clam strips at the seafood counter.

By Jessie Price

EatingWell food editor Jessie Price's professional background in food started when she worked in restaurant kitchens in the summers during college. She started out testing recipes for EatingWell and then joined the staff here full-time in 2004 when she moved to Vermont from San Francisco.

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