Clamming Up

By Mike
(Kristy is recovering from sending Miss A to her first day of school. No tears from Miss A…and only a few from mom.)

I’ve never been one to kill my dinner, though as regular blog readers know, I’ve made exceptions when it comes to lobster.  However, we also tried two other live shellfish on our trek to Maine last month–steamed mussels (coming soon) and clams.

Live clams are gross.

They have these little finger-shaped things that stick out and sort of flop and leak seawater, and frankly the most accurate and vivid descriptions I can come up with for them aren’t really appropriate for a family blog.  What’s cool, though, is that if you tap the tip of these mouths, they come to life!  They stiffen up, spit water, and contract a little.  Tap them again with just a little bit of pressure and they retract back into the shell.  It took a few minutes of playing around with them to figure out exactly how they worked, but once I got the hang of it, it was fun.  Mr. N especially got a kick out of it, and liked making them squirt water.  The fun outweighs the grossness, and to our friend Kelly over at Inspired Edibles, we hope you have a chance and the fortitude to try cooking live clams on your forthcoming trip to Maine.

Check out the grossness oozing out of the one on the left.

The first time we went to buy clams, we stopped at a roadside stand called Tracey’s Seafood and, having never done live clams, had no real good idea how to buy them. The recipe we had called for four pounds, but we saw on the sign that lobsters were $5/lb and clams were $14.95/pint. I ordered two pints from the window, then you had to go inside to get the lobsters. When I had the lobsters, I went back to the window to pick up the clams, and lo and behold, they were fried, not live.  My bad.
We took them back to the cabin anyway–it wasn’t their fault.  Two pints of fried clams is a lot, and we were still early enough in our vacation that we were trying to watch our diets.  Tracey’s fried clams put an end to that, and we put an end to Tracey’s fried clams.  They were phenomenal, easily the best fried clams I’ve ever had.  Live clams would have to wait for another day.


Fortunately, the wait was short. We picked up our four pounds of clams for much less than $14.95/pint, and set them in a mix of salt water and cornmeal. This irritates them and makes them vomit sand. Like I said, clams are gross.

After the cornmeal does its job, you need to tap the mouths back into the shells. All of ours retracted easily. You can see the mouth sticking straight out of the top of the right-most clam in this picture:
The next step is to boil them in batches, just until the shells split open, and then you’re done.
We served ours alongside Mussels and our favorite cheddar-garlic biscuits.
A little butter on the side made for good dipping sauce.
Mr. N was more than excited to see exactly what the inside of these things was all about, and he ate ’em up.

Even Ms. A dug right in. Note the mostly empty plate.

You’ll have to stay tuned to find out how the mussels went over, but the clams were a big hit all around. Four spoons from Mr. N and me, but Kristy had to dock them a spoon for the gross factor, so she joined Ms. A at three spoons.
Print this recipe: Steamers

33 thoughts on “Clamming Up

  1. Caroline says:

    Great post Mike! I’m not really a clam person, but I did try some at a nice restaurant in South Carolina and they weren’t all that bad. I struggled getting past the slight grittiness/sandiness though…but I guess that means they were fresh, right? Ha! And yes, the photo of the oozing clam is pretty gross. Ick!

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    • ChefDad says:

      I wish we’d taken a better picture of some of the ooze. Most of the clams on top stay retracted for some reason, but when you dig in, there’s stuff hanging out everywhere. We did get most of the sand out of ours, but certainly not all of it.

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  2. spicegirlfla says:

    I agree with John’s comment above, your children are very adventurous little eaters!! If mine had seen the process involved in getting those to the table, there was no way they would eat them! I’m definitely bookmarking this as it’s a great informative post for working with those gross little clams!!

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    • ChefDad says:

      I think the process made Mr. N more excited–he liked making the clams squirt. I also think it helped that they’d already been there, done that with the lobsters.

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  3. ChgoJohn says:

    It’s great that your children are so willing to eat things like clams & mussels. As you well know, there’s an entire World of good food waiting for them, all they have to do is be willing to sample it. As for me, I’ll take clams & mussels anyway I can get ’em.

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  4. Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide says:

    I read every word of this post and still, even during the vomit sand parts, my brain was going clams, clams, clams,, clams. The price really sent me over the edge. I was hoping to do live crabs when we were in Maryland a few days ago, but the price $60 for a dozen or $150 for a bushel had us making crab cakes instead. Anyway, great post!

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    • ChefDad says:

      Whoever had the cabin in Maine before us did crabs on the “beach” outside–there were scattered shells around and I’m pretty sure you could trap some if you knew what you were doing. We saw lots of crabs, but none much bigger than a quarter.

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  5. Kelly says:

    Oh… Miss A’s first day of school. I feel for mom… completely understand all the emotions involved. I hope you take yourself to a special place today Kristy – whatever and wherever that may be for you (pedicure; yoga class; feet up reading a book?). Thanks for this great post Mike and for your good wishes on the occasion of our (hopeful) trip to Maine – we are keeping a close watch on Irene at this very moment… yikes!

    “We were still early enough in our vacation that we were trying to watch our diets” love that line and can so relate! The fried clams are hard to resist and once you’ve had one, oh dear, good luck stopping 🙂 Our boys are still a bit squeamish when it comes to seafood but I’m completely inspired by your two nippers digging right in. Will have to show them this and all the fun involved! Those cheddar-garlic biscuits look rather delightful too – so yummy. Thanks guys!

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    • ChefDad says:

      Watching the diet on vacation is tough for me, though thankfully we got to hike a bunch of it off.

      Hope the hurricane holds off for you. Will you make it up near Acadia? We’ve been there and went to Ogunquit a few years ago..

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  6. frugalfeeding says:

    I’ve never had clams, but I do love mussels. I’ll have to try them. It’s quite surprising considering I’ve always lived by the sea! That little plate of food looks absolutely divine!

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  7. Eva Taylor says:

    I love mussels but not a big fan of clams! The gross factor you described will likely keep me from them! 😉 I usually buy cultivated mussels, so we never have grit issues, but will keep your tip in mind. Your dinner looked amazing!

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  8. Charles says:

    I do the same thing with mussels, although without the cornmeal, to make them spew up the sand and grit. It’s a great tip because nothing is more annoying than chomping down on some grains of sand! I’m impressed that everyone loved the clams – I love mussels but I just can’t bring myself to look too closely to the insides of them… way too funky looking 😀

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  9. thecompletecookbook says:

    I love all types of seafood – clams and mussels being right at the top of the list with everything else – however, I could not do the “live” thing. It must sound like a bit of a double standard I know, but I just can’t do it! I am a bit of a ninny.
    Hope Kristy is feeling better about day 2 of school.
    Have a happy weekend.
    🙂 Mandy

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    • ChefDad says:

      Try it, try it! It’s fun, once you figure it out. And sadly (happily?), Miss A goes to school on Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday so we’ve got to wait four days before she goes again. I think we’d be happy to keep the momentum going.

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  10. Kay aka Babygirl says:

    I love how these clams turned out. I’m not a big clam eater.. but I think I will definitely give it a go again. Chefdad.. amazing post. And Tell Kristy I said to hang in there. Miss A will always be her little girl. My mom says it will get easier 🙂

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    • ChefDad says:

      I must say I was impressed with Kristy yesterday…she was tough and fought back the tears until Miss A was safely tucked away with her teacher. And Miss A did great too.

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  11. A_Boleyn says:

    I love fried clams and could live on them but only get them at Red Lobster where they’re quite pricey. Steamed mussels are tasty as well and you can get as many as you want at the chinese buffet place cooked in a black bean sauce. I’m curious what the round pancakey thing with green bits is on the plate.

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      • A_Boleyn says:

        I didn’t recognize them, though I remember that post, since these didn’t seem to have risen very much and were bigger across than I remembered. I’m sure they were still very tasty. Reminds me that I want to make a big batch of creamy seafood chowder (like clam chowder but with lots of other goodies inside) with biscuits to sop up the liquid.

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  12. joshuafagans says:

    We actually dug a bunch out of the mud this summer. Want to talk about gross that was not the same mud they use in the spa. Actually have a few photos on my blog if you didn’t get grossed out enough with yours.

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    • ChefDad says:

      We were reading the recipe before we got them, and it said to tap the clams until they close, but the shells look closed when you get them. It took a while to figure out that “closed” meant that the mouths closed up when you tapped them. A fun adventure indeed. Thanks for visiting.

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