Clam Entrees

Fried Clams, Baked Clams, Clam Chowder, Clams Casino, and more


Many folks who’ve never eaten a clam before approach this delicious bivalve with trepidation, most often in a restaurant, where their friends encourage them to “try something new.” Fear not. Clams are sweet to the taste. They are on so many menus because they’re delicious, as well as good for you. Clams are particularly high in metals you need to survive, including zinc. They are a rich source of protein, because a clam is 100% protein. But most of all, they’re tasty!

Here are some common clam entrées served in restaurants.

Fried clams

These are clams deep-fried in (preferably minimal) breading, and served in cardboard pint containers at family restaurants, or on a platter along with French fries and onion rings. Because they are fried, the quality of the fry fat the restaurant uses, matters. When you enter the restaurant, you will notice the smell of frying. If that odor has any unpleasant tang, don’t eat there. That means the restaurant is not changing its fry fat often enough in a day, so it has become “tired.” Even delectable fresh clams fried in that stuff will have the charm of spoiled cardboard.

Fried Clams with tartar sauce and fries, Newicks Seafood restaurant, Dover, New HampshireI just ate the fried clams with tartar sauce and fries at Newicks Seafood restaurant, Dover, New Hampshire, yesterday for lunch. Mouthwatering!

Fried clams are finger food. You pop them one-by-one in your mouth, after dipping them in tartar sauce or ketchup. At most places, “whole clams” are fried, the full clam body including the belly and the neck. Sometimes “clam necks” are on offer – this refers to what biologists call the clam’s siphon. For the full clam experience, eat the entire clam. The fact fried clam necks were available for years across the continental US at Howard Johnson’s helps explain their indifference to freshness or quality. Some fried clams long distances from the water are slices of channeled whelk or conch.

The biggest downside to fried clams is their price. One pint can be surprisingly expensive, anywhere from $8 to $16. But it is worth the money, especially because clams are perishable and must be served almost immediately promptly after harvesting. The high price reflects the freshness.

In Maine, and Maine only, you will be given the choice of "batter or crumbs." I greatly prefer crumbs to batter as the batter is always too think for me and masks the clam taste, which is the point after all!

Fried clams go especially well with Champagne.

Clam Chowder

As much a staple of New England as baked beans and brown bread at breakfast, church bells and mud, clam chowder is the staple soup of New England. A chowder is a milk-based soup augmented with cubed potatoes, often a hint of onion, and salt pork if you are traditional. In the South, corn chowder is popular.

The older clam chowder recipes call for cream, but cream can be hard to digest and is full of saturated fat. Nowadays milk is the most common chowder base. Some restaurants innovate and may serve your chowder, which comes in cups and bowls, with a sprinkling of seasoning on top such as sage. Freshly ground black pepper is strongly recommended. Northeast coastline restaurants are especially proud of their chowder recipes and guard them jealously. The 2011 winner of the Best Chowder competition in Boston, MA was Clancy’s Restaurant in Dennis. The most consistent winner since the 1980s has been Legal Seafood Restaurant, a fine chain for anyone interested in fresh, quality seafood .

Baked Clams

These are quahogs, large hard-shelled clams served in the shell. (Clams casino is a different dish utilizing cherrystone clams.) The quahog meat is minced, combined with seasoned breading, painted lightly with butter then oven-roasted on baking sheets. Baked clams can be delicious, but should never be over-breaded: the clam must stay the hero of the dish. If uncertain, order just one as a test.

Clams Casino

Clams CasinoThis simple dish consists of shucked cherrystones served roasted with a strip of bacon on the top or perhaps chopped and integrated with the toppings. Before cooking, each clam is covered with a mush (mixture) of seasonings beginning with bread crumbs, chopped white onion, minced garlic and butter (which conducts or conveys the flavors). All ingredients seem to be optional, and experimentation can produce real success here. Green and red peppers, red onion, Worcestershire sauce, shallots, white wine, sea salt, black pepper and oregano work well in clams casino. Although created in Narragansett, RI, clams casino is considered to be Italian cuisine, and the Italian school of cooking offers the best source of innovative ideas for this dish. The bacon is indispensable. Our picture, my first attempt at cooking them myself, includes chopped bacon, red peppers, no bread crumbs, shallots, oregano, and white wine.

For more on my clams casino recipe evolution click here.

Got some other favorite clam entrees? Just let us know!

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