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How to prepare clams - Clam Cooking Tips

Overcooked clams are like shoe leather


Clam bake
Alexandra Grablewski/Digital Vision/Getty Images

How to Prepare Fresh Clams

First, scrub the outside of the clams thoroughly with a stiff brush. Since clams naturally burrow in the sand, they need to be purged of grit lest crunching down on grains of sand diminish your enjoyment of this flavorful seafood. Sand should be removed before cooking by covering the clams with salt water (1/3 cup salt to 1 gallon of water) and let sit for several hours. Adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cornmeal to the soaking water helps expel the dark matter and sand from the stomachs and also whitens the meat.

If you are shucking your own, the shells will be easier to open if you freeze them for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from freezer and let sit a few minutes before attacking the shells. As they warm up, the muscles relax and the shells will open slightly so you can get your clam knife in. Remember to shuck over a bowl to save all that wonderful juice known as clam liquor.

You may wish to remove the tough skin covering the neck of longneck clams. Slit the skin lengthwise and remove it. You can ground the skin and add it to chowder or creamed clam dishes.

Clam Cooking Tips and Hints

• If clams do not open after cooking, discard them, as it means they were not alive to begin with and may be contaminated with bacteria or toxins.

• Clams may be substituted in most oyster, scallop, and mussel recipes and vice versa.

• The smallest clams are the most desirable for eating raw. The larger they get, the tougher the meat.

• Extended heat further toughens the meat, so cook gently at low heat settings.

• Signature clam dishes include New England Clam Chowder, Manhattan Clam Chowder, fried clam fritters (also known as fannie daddies and boat steerers), clams casino, cioppino (seafood stew originating in San Francisco), and, of Italian-American heritage, clams posillipo (cooked with garlic, red peppers, tomatoes, and seasoning).

• Unshucked clams to be eaten raw should be served very cold to facilitate opening the shell.

• Some prefer lime juice rather than lemon juice as a condiment, along with cocktail sauce and horseradish if you must.

• If you overcook clams, you might as well eat shoe leather, so add them to the heat last.

• Whole clams are finished cooking when the shell opens. If the shell does not open after cooking, discard the clam.

• A chef friend of mine has a tip for tender clams in white chowder: soak the clams in milk or cream specified in the recipe and add them last along with the cream. Cooking only until heated through and do not boil.

• Larger clam shells can be boiled and scrubbed to use as serving pieces.

More About Clams and Clam Recipes

Clam Selection and Storage
Clam Cooking Tips
Clams and Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP)
Clam Equivalents, Measures, and Substitutions
Clam Varieties
Clam History
Clam Recipes
Clam Photo © 2008 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, licensed to About.com, Inc.


The Compleat Clammer
The New England Clam Shack Cookbook
50 Chowders: One Pot Meals - Clam, Corn, • Beyond
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