Soup is perhaps one of my favorite comfort foods. Either by itself as a meal, or part of a 3 or 4 course lunch or dinner, the likes of a good ‘ole bowl of Portuguese Bean Soup, Miso Soup or New England-style Clam Chowder always warms and sooths the soul. And interchangeably depending on mood between those just mentioned, New England Clam Chowder often turns out my number one choice. Love the stuff.
The tomato-based Manhattan style is OK, but nothing can beat the creamy, hearty, rich character of the New England style. That, along with some crispy crackers or toasted baguette and it’s all good.
Here I was impulse-shopping at the Hawaii Kai Costco yesterday, when as usual, some kind of soup lands in my cart. Besides, it was due time I stock back up on my supply of Progresso brand New England Clam Chowder, something I usually have on-hand, which Costco sells an 8-pack of 18.5 oz. cans (148 total ounces) for $10.99. That calculates to $1.37/can. That’s a very good price, especially when compared to individually sold cans in the supermarkets that go for around $2 each.
Seeing this in the dry aisle reminded me of the other brand I just looked at moments earlier in the refrigerated section. Going back there, I see it’s Harry’s brand, which was more than twice the price based on quantity at $10.65 for two 30 oz. tubs.
Of course, when it comes to eating good, I’ll take quality over quantity any day. A virtue I’m assuming is the case with the higher-priced Harry’s label. Since I’m always up for a brand A vs. Brand X taste-off, decided to pit the higher-priced, more obscure Harry’s brand against the well-known and established Progresso; a competitor Campbell’s execs probably wish would just go away.
So, as that whacky host on Iron Chef America always says, “Let the battle begin!”. That guy cracks me up, I swear. lol
Here you see Progresso provides a handy-dandy pull-tab lid, no can opener required…
And gosh darned it, we better have these in our pantry the next time there’s a extended blackout! Always the case, when you need it most, no moah. lol
And here’s a 30 oz. tub of Harry’s Chowder…
If you notice on the label, it says, “Once open, used promptly”. I’m guessing within 2-3 days. So you must commit to 30 oz. of Clam Chowder once you pop the top, which is vacuum-sealed for freshness by a plastic liner under the lid. Not sure if you could freeze the unused portion.
Most of you will probably agree that heating food (especially canned soups) on the stove top tastes much better and has better texture than the lazy way of nuking it, therefore that’s how I heated both brands up. Hot enough to be scalding, which also bought some time to take photographs before partaking in the taste test.
Without further ado, here’s a hot bowl of Progresso New England Clam Chowder…
and here’s a hot bowl of Harry’s New England-style Clam Chowder…
Now looking at the two, which have both been standing in the bowl less than a minute since being dished, you can see the Progresso looks chunkier due to the large diced potatoes that remained piled on the surface. While the clams and smaller-diced potatoes in Harry’s chowder have, for the most part, sunk below the surface.
Now let’s look at a spoonful of what lies beneath…
and here’s a spoonful of Harry’s…
Here you can sort of see the Progresso has larger potato chunks, with smaller, sparser pieces of clams in it. While Harry’s has smaller dices of potatoes, yet more clams in it. Much more clams. In fact, while trying both in this side-by-side comparison, I’d say Harry’s is a Clam Chowder that just so happens to have potatoes in it, while Progresso is a Potato Chowder that so happens to have clams in it.
And that abundance of chunky, meaty clams vs. chunky potatoes, along with its thicker, creamier, hint of butter ‘n bacon soup base sets Harry’s several laps ahead of Progresso in the “best store-bought chowdah” race.
On the back of Harry’s packaging, they describe this product like this: “Our New England-style Clam Chowder is loaded with Eastern sea and ocean clams and russet potatoes in a cream-based stock with a hint of butter.”
That description is pretty much what you get. “loaded with clams” being very much true. There indeed also is that hint of butter, yet not so rich that you’d feel sick after eating half a bowl.
Back to the viscosity, here you can see how each one coats the back of a spoon, first looking at Progresso…
Progresso New England Clam Chowder spoon-coating viscosity check
Harry’s New England-style Clam Chowder spoon-coating viscosity check
You can tell just by looking at it that Harry’s has a much thicker viscosity, along with the more abundant pieces of clamd sticking to it. Yum.
Not to knock on Progresso though, as it’ s still respectably delicious and authentic to the dish, and if I didn’t have the more upscaled Harry’s side-by-side to shadow over it, I’d be just as content with that, as I have been for years now. There’s also a few obvious advantages to the Progresso, with one being much more affordable, and two being much easier store due to it not needing refrigeration.
The only thing disappointing about the Progresso now that I have Harry’s to compare it with is its lack of bacon flavor, which is reinforced by it not being listed in the ingredients on the label. Harry’s has that essential ingredient, if for just a hint which it gives Harry’s that much more savory depth.
There’s probably an even better brand out there that I’m not aware of, which you’re more than welcome to comment and bring to our attention. And I know there’s serious chowder enthusiasts out there who’ll scoff at me for giving acclaim to Progresso, or any other store-bought chowdah for that matter. In fact, they have major, highly publicized Chowdah cook-offs up on the east coast that I’ve seen featured on the Food Network. I wonder if I entered one of those competitions with a vat full of Progresso or Harry’s in the pot, if they’d be able to tell. Ya’ think? lol Progresso for sure, but the Harry’s could probably fool many, as it has that real chef-prepared restaurant taste.
One last note, you may have noticed I used Diamond Bakery Soda Crackers to go with these soups instead of the more traditional Oyster Crackers. Sorry, but that’s where I keep the “Hawaiian Connection”, as Diamond Bakery Soda Crackers are my favorite and usual choice to go along with soups.
You can get these crackers in a large bulk-size box at Hawaii Costcos and most other grocery stores, but we prefer the one packaged like this in individually wrapped packs of four crackers. We find they’re crispier and stay that way longer. I like the saltine version too, especially with a slice of Lumber Jack, Gouda or Brie Cheese on it.
My other favorite brand is Sky Flakes from the Philippines.
What? Harry’s New England-Style Clam Chowder
From where and how much did it cost? Costco Hawaii Kai. $10.65 for two 30 oz. tubs
Big Shaka to: Choke, big, chunky pieces of clams. Creamy, thick soup base. Hint of butter. Hint of bacon. Chef-made restaurant quality and taste. Ready to serve (no water necessary). Especially ono with Diamond Soda Crackers thanks to abundant clams and thick texture that coats the cracker beautifully.
No shaka to: Relatively expensive. Not enough potatoes (but I’ll take the trade-off for the clams!). Potatoes a little mushy. Requires refrigeration. Being scoffed by Chowder enthusiasts. Being called a “Chowdah Head”. lol
SPAM Musubi rating: 4
What? Progresso New England Clam Chowder
From where and how much did it cost? Costco Hawaii Kai. $10.99 for eight 18.5 oz. cans
Big Shaka to: Plenty big diced pieces of Potato. Potatoes are nice and al dente, not mushy. Smooth, milky-creamy broth. Distinct clam flavor. Acceptably authentic to the dish (*yet see below). Relatively affordable price. Ready to serve (no water necessary). Long shelf life and easy to store (no refrigeration necessary). Easy to open, pull-tab lid.
No shaka to: Not enough clams. Broth a little too thin, which also makes it less ideal to eat off a Soda Cracker. *Lacking hint of bacon flavor in the broth. Being scoffed by Chowder enthusiasts. Being called a “Chowdah Head”.
SPAM Musubi rating: 2
What? Diamond Bakery Soda Crackers
From where and how much did it cost? Long’s Ala Moana on sale at $2.49 for a 13 oz. package, which includes 7 packs of 4 crackers each
Big Shaka to: Crispy & fresh, thanks to being wrapped in individual serving sizes. Neutral, very basic baked cracker flavor that compliments nicely (doesn’t overpower) with soups and sliced cheese toppings. Relatively cheap. Made in Hawaii.
No shaka to: Big box size, which often goes stale before you can finish them. Not (as of yet) being available in “oyster” shape/style. Being called a “cracker”. lol
SPAM Musubi rating: 5