Governor Janet Mills’s Favorite Clam Chowder Recipe

Erin French's sweet clam chowder is “a quintessentially Maine recipe," Mills says.

Erin French's clam chowder is Governor Janet Mills's favorite
By Alexandra Hall
Styled and photographed by Derek Bissonnette
From our October 2022 issue
Governor Janet Mills
Photo courtesy of Mills for Maine

Chowder enthusiast and Maine governor Janet Mills found her favorite recipe by first working with a Maine culinary star on policy and then, only after, eating her food. “Last year, I read the book Finding Freedom by Erin French,” Mills says, “which discusses her battle with substance-use disorder and her hard-won success in creating her renowned restaurant, The Lost Kitchen.” Later, the governor sat down with French during the state’s annual Opioid Response Summit, where she heard the chef’s thoughts about what Maine can do better in the fight to prevent substance-use disorder and support life-long recovery. “Her contributions were hopeful, meaningful, and inspiring,” Mills says. Later on, the governor joined some family and friends for an “incredible” meal at The Lost Kitchen and afterward picked up French’s cookbook of the same name, which is where she encountered what she calls “a quintessentially Maine recipe: sweet clam chowder.”

Playing Hot and Cold

“I recommend enjoying sweet clam chowder on a chilly fall or winter evening, right after you’ve come in from the cold, as a reward to warm up your body and spirit,” the governor advises. To wash down all that warmth, Mills suggests a cold one — something light, crisp, and preferably brewed in Maine. “A personal favorite is Saddleback Ale, from Sebago Brewing Company, which I first tried while on a tour of the brewery earlier this year,” she says.

Chowder of Sweet Clams with Shallots and Fingerlings

Serves 4 to 6

My grandparents were potato farmers in Ashland, and when I visited them growing up, potatoes were often at the heart of their home-cooked meals. Marrying potatoes with the sweet sea brine of clams, caramelized shallots, and good fresh dill, Erin’s clam chowder takes me back to my childhood while also bringing together two of Maine’s oldest callings — farming and fishing.


5 pounds clams, either steamers or littlenecks
1 pound baby potatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving
6 shallots, thinly sliced
3 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
5 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill


Give the clams a good rinse under cold running water, discarding any with cracked shells, and put them in a large pot with a lid. Add 2½ cups of water to the pot, cover, and cook over high heat until the clams steam open, about 5 minutes. Drain and let cool to room temperature. Use an oyster or clam knife to shuck the clams, discarding any that didn’t open. Reserve the clam meat.

Wipe out the pot and add the potatoes. Pour in just enough cold water to cover and season with salt. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat so the water simmers, and cook the potatoes until fork-tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain the potatoes and let cool to room temperature before cutting into bite-size pieces.

Return the pot to medium heat and add the olive oil and shallots. Cook, stirring frequently, until deeply caramelized, about 20 minutes. Add the potatoes, cream, milk, and butter and bring to a gentle simmer. Add the clams and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook for another minute, just to heat the clams through.

Remove the pot from the heat, sprinkle in the parsley and dill, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and serve.

*Recipe from The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine, by Erin French, published in 2017 by Clarkson Potter, used with permission

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