Clam chowder is rich, filling and has strong flavor, making it somewhat difficult to find just the right side dishes to accompany it. The food served with chowder needs to be light but with a mild flavor that doesn't compete with the clams. Keeping it simple is the key. Avoid side dishes that mimic the flavors in the chowder, such as potatoes or vegetables in creamy sauces.
Variations on clam chowder are endless. Just like every cook adds her own touch to chili, little changes to a chowder recipe can result in big changes to the flavor. For a more filling clam chowder, add extra potatoes and clams in big chunks rather than small pieces. For a lighter chowder, use more vegetables and fewer clams and potatoes. Besides the changes cooks make to each recipe, different regions are known for particular styles of clam chowder. New England chowder, for example, uses a milk base for the broth. It can be made even creamier by using half-and-half. Manhattan clam chowder is red, with tomatoes added to the mixture. Rhode Island clam chowder is made without potatoes, using celery instead.
Sourdough bread is most commonly served with clam chowder. It has just the right taste and texture to balance out the rich flavor of the clams. Sourdough rolls, baguettes or slices of bread with butter all go well with clam chowder. For a special treat, serve the clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Homemade white or whole wheat bread, as well as saltine or whole-grain crackers, also complement chowder. Corn bread or corn muffins can complement the taste of clam chowder but may be a little heavy.
A green salad is an ideal appetizer or side dish with clam chowder. It is cool, refreshing and light. Caesar salad is delicious with chowder, but a simple tossed salad with a vinaigrette or creamy dressing also goes well. Add spinach leaves to the salad for extra nutrients or serve a spinach salad with blue cheese, cranberries and walnuts sprinkled on top. Baby mixed greens topped with slivers of carrot, sliced zucchini squash and a creamy tomato dressing also make a good appetizer for clam chowder.
Hush puppies pair perfectly with every type of clam chowder. Panisse, which is a fried chickpea flour patty mixed with various spices and cheese, also makes a great side dish. Steamed vegetables are a good choice, including steamed baby carrots glazed with brown sugar, steamed broccoli and cauliflower, or steamed asparagus topped with Parmesan cheese. Fresh fruit, such as watermelon, cantaloupe, sliced peaches, pears or strawberries, is also a light, cool way to finish off a clam chowder meal.