Learning to Make Steamed Clams

by J.D. Roth

My obsessions with clams continues. I’ve been ordering them whenever I can find them on a restaurant menu, so I’m beginning to get a feel for the varieties available. My favorite are still those at Gino’s, primarily because they’re more soupy. Most clams come steamed and served in a sauce of some sort. But they’re mostly clams. The ones at Gino’s are served with far more liquid than others I’ve found. I like that.

This weekend I decided to finally learn to make clams on my own. We’re hosting our informal monthly “food club” next weekend (a club that includes me and Kris, Paul and Amy Jo, Mike and Rhonda); I’m hoping to make steamed clams. We’re supposed to only prepare new recipes for this gathering, but I’m leery of preparing clams for the group without having done so before. So I’m experimenting. Good thing, too.

On Friday I bought two pounds of “steamer clams” from Thriftway (cost: $11.50). I assumed that these were the sort I was getting in restaurants. Wrong. Steamer clams are big, much larger than the clams I get at Higgins or Gino’s. I didn’t realize this, though, until I fixed them Saturday morning.

I found a recipe from Caprial that sounded promising, and began to prepare it. I brought a cup of white wine and two teaspoons of butter to a boil, and then added the clams. When they opened, I was shocked to see how much meat was inside. The idea of eating this was gross, even to me. I changed tack, and set those clams (and the liquid) aside for some chowder.

Tiffany took us for a hike later in the morning. Afterward, we stopped at Costco where I was able to purchase a five pound bag of Manila clams for $17.50. Jerry, the seafood guy, gave me a recipe for preparing the clams (which was basically one I had come up with on my own: white wine and garlic), and guaranteed me that I would love these clams or I could bring back the empty bag and get a full refund. Nice guy, that Jerry.

At home, I tried a variation on the morning’s recipe. Someplace (I can’t remember where), I had clams with bacon, and quite liked it. So, I melted a little butter, added some bacon ends (I keep a stash of these in the freezer — I buy a bag at a time from Voget Meats in Hubbard), and fried the bacon til crispy. Then I added some minced garlic and minced shallots, frying these til fragrant and golden-brown. Next I added some white wine. When this was boiling, I added the clams.

The end-product was good, but I actually found the dry white wine too piquant. It was overbearing. Also, the clams are still larger than the ones I get in the restaurant. I think the restaurant clams are “littlenecks”. I’ll have to find a place to buy them.

I’ve offered to make clams for dinner tonight, and Kris has gamely agreed to eat them. I’m going to adapt my recipe a little. I have about four pounds of clams left, so I’m going to do the following:

I’d love to add saffron to this — the big restaurants do — but I don’t know the proper stage to add it. I’m also curious about hickory-smoke flavor. Not with this particular recipe, I guess, but in general I think a smokey flavor would go well with clams. I’ll have to experiment with that, too.

Updated: 20 May 2007

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