Luke’s Lobster in Portland serves a classic chunky clam chowder. Photo courtesy of Luke’s Lobster

So renowned are we for our iconic staple, that the term “Maine chowder” has arguably become redundant. And so territorial about its foundation are we that in 1938, our state Legislature actually proposed a bill to outlaw the Manhattan version, passing an ordinance that made it illegal to include tomatoes in any chowder in Maine. (The penalty for those found guilty? They’d have to dig up a barrel of clams at high tide.) Begone, foul tomatoes, defiling our creamy swirls of virgin white!

And for the record, no: The law didn’t pass. But the general sentiment remains. So don’t get any ideas.

While our passion for chowder runs throughout the year, it runs particularly hot in the winter, when everything else gets particularly cold. Which leaves us only the persnickety personal preferences to debate: chunky or less chunky? Lobster or clam? Corn, crab or a mix of both? And is monkfish stew a chowder? (Technically yes, since it’s dairy-based.) The debates, like chowder itself, are a winter indulgence both delicious and substantial. Here are several standouts of some favorite styles of chowder. The legal ones, that is.

Chunky clam (and gluten-free): Luke’s Lobster, Portland, $10 a cup; $13 a bowl
About as classic as classic gets, it teems with chopped clams and extra potatoes, and employs a potato flour that renders it gluten-free. To create the recipe, says co-founder and CIO Ben Conniff, “We worked with Hurricane’s Soup, based out of Greene, Maine – back when Luke’s opened in 2009.”
60 Portland Pier, Portland, 207-550-2490; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Seafood chowder from Bob’s in Windham. Photo courtesy of Bob’s Seafood

Seafood (and gluten-free): Bob’s Seafood, Windham, $13.99 for a crock
It’s definitely the plump shrimp. Wait, no — it’s the flaky haddock. Or is it the salty scallops and sweet lobster meat? Maybe it’s the briny clams that put it over the top. Without a doubt, it’s all of the above. Oh, and since it uses a flourless haddock broth as its base, it’s also gluten-free.
901 Roosevelt Trail, Windham, 207-893-2882; 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Corn and crab: Scales, Portland, $8.25 a cup; $12.50 a bowl
Choosing between surf and veg is a false choice question when a kitchen as adept as Scales dovetails both so swimmingly.
68 Commercial St., Portland, 207-805-0444; 4:30-9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 4:30-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Haddock with a twist: Batson River, Biddeford, $12
Take one of chowder’s standard bearers (haddock), delicately smoke it, and then hand it some serious accessories – in this case, poblano pepper and fried leeks. What you get is a bowl of this extraordinary elixir.
17 Lincoln St., Biddeford, 207-815-3980; 4-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4-10 p.m. Friday, 2-10 p.m. Saturday, 2-9 p.m. Sunday.

The monkfish stew. Guenola Lefeuvre, Textured Porcelain

Monkfish stew: Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, $11.99 at Harbor Fish Market, Portland; available at markets statewide and served hot at select locations
They call it a stew, but by all counts it’s a chowder since it’s cream-based. Sold at multiple markets throughout the state in 16-ounce pouches that you heat in a pot of simmering water and serve right out of the bag, it’s a mighty tasty and sustainably sourced chowder that supports both the Brunswick-based Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and its Fishermen Feeding Mainers program, which donates proceeds to the food-insecure.

Alexandra Hall is a longtime New England lifestyle writer who lives in Maine.

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