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[ Currently Eating: Not surprisingly, clam chowder ]

Progresso Clam ChowderI went to Boston a few years ago to visit a friend who was just exiting the MIT program there. One of the best things I remember about the city was the food, and that included quite a few seafood joints… some good and some not. There were also a lot of bowls of Clam Chowder to be had there, and I did manage to try the Legal Seafood Clam Chowder which I thought was good though a bit on the salty side.

Not that we have any standards of excellence at Cheap Eats, but it is quite another thing to go from homemade or restaurant Clam Chowder to the kind in a can. This is the subject of today’s Cheap Eats special: Progresso Clam Chowder.

I know a lot of you are going to say you wouldn’t touch canned clam chowder with a 10 foot spoon, but there’s times when you just don’t feel like farking around with a fishmonger who doesn’t know a clam from a ham.

I have always stuck with non-condensed versions for canned chowder… that is soup that you can drink straight out of the can instead of adding bunches of water. One of the problems for me though, is that I think the “salt” taste buds on my tongue are malfunctioning compared to the average American because in nearly every case canned clam chowder straight up is just too powerful for me. It’s also quite thick and viscous and sometimes hard to eat; almost like clam slime instead of soup.

I think most people actually like their clam chowder really thick and while that may be a good thing in homemade soup, for the canned variety I think they just add a whole mess of thickener starch to it. It’s gloppy like corn starch. I’m not even sure what that is, nor do I care to know!

So, I always add a bit of water to the mix. About 1/8 to 1/2 a can will do ya good. And this is keeping in the spirit of Cheap Eats because you’ve just created more food out of thin air by just adding some water.

Progresso Clam ChowderI’ve had Campbell’s Chunky Clam Chowder Soup most of the time, but this time I picked up a 6 pack of Progresso Clam Chowder at CostCo. It comes out to about a dollar and a quarter or so a can, which is much better than getting single cans at the market where it’ll run you up to $2.50 for a single can. The price of clam chowder is a big deal breaker for rating soup. I don’t know how soup got so expensive; what happened to 33 cent cans of Campbells’ Chicken Noodle Soup? Gone with the days of 30 cent Hershey Bars…

Campbell’s and Progresso are constantly fighting on TV with Progresso claiming their soup is more “adult” and isn’t as wimpy, while Campbell’s plays the “home-goodness, just like when you were a kid” card. Both are equally disillusioned. It’s canned soup after all. I think there’s plenty of room in the soup universe for both of them. I find that for some varieties Campbell’s is better while others Progresso wins.

For Clam Chowder, I think it’s a bit of a tossup. Progresso flavor is a bit more adult indeed. There are bigger pieces of clams in there and more of them. The soup has an almost tangy taste to it that I don’t think kids might like. I didn’t like the consistency of the potatoes too much – they were overly pasty even though the chunks were large enough. But overall, it’s a pretty decent staple to have in the cupboard for those days you don’t feel like cooking for lunch.

One place where Progresso wins hands down is in the SAND factor. The Sand factor is of course the amount of tooth-breaking grit laced in the chunks of clam in the soup. For Progresso, I find very little amount of Sand in the soup. Whereas, with Campbell’s I remember nearly breaking a molar once or twice. Sometimes there are actually little pieces of shell thrown in, no doubt by some coalition of unscrupulous dentists. I think the quality control may go up and down though for both brands. In any case, chew lightly when eating canned clam chowder.

Cheap Eats Score: 5/10

17 Responses to “Progresso Clam Chowder”

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  1. Ayesha97 Says:

    Instead of water, you could use some milk (adds to the price, but…) to give it a creamier taste than straight up water.

  2. Cheap Eats Editor Says:

    ayehsa – i completely forgot to mention that sometimes I do half milk and half water. Actually, in my case it’s half lactaid half water cause that’s what is in the fridge. I’m used to more watery soup, so sometimes I go all water even though there’s lactaid in the fridge…

  3. earl bryant Says:

    To me, both brands are really just clam-flavored potato soup. So I take two cans of soup and mix in a small can of clams. I only buy the soup when it’s on sale and I can use double coupons. No way am I ever paying more than $1 for a can of soup.

  4. Cheap Eats Editor Says:

    earl – right on. I’ve made clam chowder before from scratch but it tended to take a long time. The clams are the key I think, because good brand cans can be pricey, but if you get the cheapie brands then there’s more sediment in ‘em. Well, i find I gotta wash them anyhow pretty thoroughly…

    When I use shrimp I sometimes save the shells and/or boil them right away in water for about 20 minutes to get a sort of “stock” that seems to be a good base for making stuff like clam soup. Or you can use bottled “clam juice” but that in itself is pricey, about $2 or so.

  5. RealSimpleRecipes Says:

    Mmm.. Legal Seafood is good stuff. I personally like Campbell’s Chunky Clam Chowder. I thin it out with some skim milk if I have crackers or some good crusty bread available. Reading all this is making me hungry!

  6. Bonz Says:

    “When I use shrimp I sometimes save the shells and/or boil them right away in water for about 20 minutes to get a sort of “stock” that seems to be a good base for making stuff like clam soup.”

    Dude, when making stock from shellfish remember that their flavor is not water soluble which makes sense since they are marine animals. Their shells are, however, fat or lipid soluble. Try giving them a nice long slow and very low simmer in some neutral oil such as canola or clarified butter. Also cream works well too. If using harder shellls such as lobster or crab (you can get them really cheap from a monger.). Give em a good wack with something heavy to increase the surface area.

    OkayI’m done. Oh yeah, I like the chowder in cans but that grit really gets on my nerves.

  7. Cheap Eats Editor Says:

    RSR – crusty bread is cool. I am split between Campbell’s and Progresso… I think I can go either way

    Bonz – Hm… well, that does seem to make sense logically. However, I got the tip straight out of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine which was a recipe for Gumbo, and I’ve made that recipe about 5 times and each time it’s been great. Cook’s is pretty well known for intensive testing as well as backing it up with food science which is why I like them. Although the majority of the Gumbo article dealt with the finicky nature of roux they did mention a little bit about the shrimp stock:

    “My testing thus far had been done with a simple shrimp stock, made by simmering the shells in water. I tried boiling the shells in chicken stock instead of water, combining equal parts shrimp and chicken stock, adding bottled clam juice to the shrimp stock, and adding small amounts of white wine and beer to the gumbo. The clam juice… did the trick adding a depth of flavor that supplmented the 20-minute roux.”

    They simmer the shells for 20 minutes, strain it and add clam juice. I think that you are correct that simmering in oil will unlock more flavor, and perhaps it is the clam juice that actually adds the majority of the flavor to their stock. However, tasting the stock straight up without clam juice added, it DOES have some flavor albeit a sort of light seafood taste. Maybe it is partially from leftover meat inside the shells? But I think I will try your method of using oil next time to see if I can get some more taste out of them! =)

  8. cybele Says:

    Of the few brands of canned clam chowder I’ve tried, I prefer the progresso, but like you, I add a dash of water and a healthy sprinkling of fresh cracked pepper. It’s a meal in a bowl. I’m fond of potatoes, so it’s a good soup for me. My absolute favorite progresso is Chicken & Barley.

  9. Cheap Eats Editor Says:

    cybele – hey yes, the Chicken Barley is good… I think we used to get the CostCo chicken variety 6 or 8 pack which has Chicken Noodle and Chicken and Barley. And black pepper on soup is a must!

  10. Andie Says:

    Alright so all last night while I was falling asleep, I was thinking about if I had enough stuff to toss together and try to make some clam chowder for lunch today. LOL LOL I think you’re a bad influence on me.

  11. Cheap Eats Editor Says:

    andie – LOL! I haven’t had much time to cook lately so that’s great hearing about other people cooking.

    so, is there a simple recipe you follow for clam chowder? and what kind of clams do you use… =)

  12. Andie Says:

    I was just going to make it up as I went along. LOL I was too hungry when I got home from the gym to try and make it though. You know how you can get tuna in those pouches now? Well I found some clams that way and I was going to use those. If I ever make it I’ll let you know how it turned out. :)

  13. Cheap Eats Editor Says:

    andie – Hey, yeah I’ve seen clams in the foil pouch! I think it was Starkist… I bought that once or twice and I actually found the quality and taste to be better than canned. But then they took it away at my grocery store! Maybe for the best since it was much more pricey than canned. I think I made clam linguini with it and it was pretty good. One thing I remember is that there was less “liquid” in the pouch than in the can which I guess can be good or bad depending on whether need it for sauce…

  14. Ted Says:

    I dolled up the Progresso with a can of TJ’s chopped clams, a few chopped mushrooms and some sliced celery,a diced small spud, and a 1/2 tsp of dill weed. Doesn’t compete with Legal Sea Food, but was mighty tasty

  15. kandii Says:

    Clam chowder is good. i recommend clam chowder with milk

  16. Matt Crane Says:

    I like progressive it is cheap and good. I also like Campbells select 99% fat free. It is on the healthier side, and 200 calories less. But I have to add old bay and tabasco to my soup.

  17. Robert Bennett Says:

    It annoys me to no end that Progresso’s TV ad talked about “catching clams.” Being an old man from Maine, I know that clams are dug from mud flats rather than caught. I wish they would get it right.



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