Top Tips on How to Cook Clams

When it comes to learning how to cook clams, the bulk of the effort lies in cleaning and preparation. Traditional steamed clams don't require shucking, but if you'll be using clams in chowders or sauces, you might want to invest in a good paring or shucking knife to make the job a bit easier.

Selecting Clams


Hard-shelled clams. Hard-shelled clams open and shut their shells at will. When selecting hard-shelled clams in the store or at the fishmonger's, tap them with your finger to be sure they shut immediately. Some experts say that you should never purchase clams with shells that are slightly open. While it's true that these clams may be sick or dying, that one simple tap tells you all you need to know: if the shell closes immediately, the clam is okay to cook and eat. Avoid any closed clams that also feel overly heavy for their size as the shells may contain a good deal of mud. Likewise, steer away from those that feel overly light, which indicates they may be dead or dying.

Hard-shelled clams have different names depending on their size. The smallest and most tender clams are called littlenecks. Medium-sized clams are most often referred to as cherrystones while the largest and toughest clams, usually reserved for chowder, are called just that: chowder clams. Depending upon your proximity to the West Coast, you might also see small Manila clams, which are also prized for their beautifully striped shells.

Soft-shelled clams. In general, soft-shelled clams do not close all the way because of protruding siphons (commonly called necks) that don't retract completely into their shells. On the East Coast, they're called steamers or steamer clams. Popular West Coast soft-shelled clams are the razor clam and the geoduck clam. To test soft-shelled clams before purchase, tap on their sihpons instead of their shells. The siphons should retract or move in response to your touch.

Cleaning Clams
Soft-shelled clams have a reputation for being gritty due to the sand they take into their shells when they eat. Before cooking, soak your soft-shelled clams in cold, salty water for approximately two hours. The soaking process encourages them to open and expel any sand inside the shells. Drain the first batch of water, then mix another batch of salt water to rinse the clams. To clean hard-shelled clams, scrub them under cold running water with a brush until all the grit and debris is removed from the shells.

The Best Way to Cook Clams
If you're a clam lover, you probably have your favorite way of cooking and eating clams--fried, grilled or as the main element in a creamy chowder--but purists agree: the best way to cook clams is to keep it simple and serve steamed clams with drawn butter and broth.

Steaming soft-shelled clams. After soaking and cleaning the clams, fill the bottom of a steamer pan with enough water to cover the bottom.

Heat the water to boiling and arrange the clams on the steamer rack, then cover. Lower the heat to medium-low and steam until clams open, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove clams from the pan as they open. Throw away any clams that do not open after 10 minutes of steaming. Pour the broth from the bottom of the steamer into cups.

Take clams out of their shells, taking care to remove and discard the black sheathe that covers the clam's neck. Serve with the steamed broth and drawn butter. Dipping clams into the broth first helps remove any remaining sand. 

Steaming hard-shelled clams. Try steaming littlenecks or cherrystones for a delightful appetizer. Sauté garlic, onions and some ginger in a little olive oil in the bottom of a saucepan. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, then add a quarter cup each of sherry and water, and bring the sauce to a boil.

Add the scrubbed hard-shelled clams and cover. Lower the heat and simmer the clams for 5 to 10 minutes, until clams have opened. Discard any clams that do not open. Serve clams in broth immediately for a tasty first course.

Shucking Clams for Recipes
If you want to use clams for chowder, frying or any other recipe, you'll need to shuck them before cooking. Rinse and scrub soft-shelled clams under cold, running water and scrub hard-shelled clams. Take a hold of the clam so that the hinge of the clamshell is nestled in the palm of  your hand, snug against the point where your thumb extends from your palm.

Using a paring or shucking knife, slip the thinnest part of the blade between the two halves of the shell opposite the hinge. Slide the blade along the edges of the shell, until you've gone around the entire perimeter of the shell.

Next, twist the knife blade gently to pry the shell open. With a gentle sawing motion, separate the meat from the top half of the shell, then remove the meat from the bottom half of the shell.  Discard the shells unless you'll be using them to bake the meat in or to serve. Place the clam meat in cold, salty water until ready to use. Properly stored clam meat can last in refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.

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