Clams look like simple organisms, but there's a lot going on inside those shells. When you devour a clam, you eat a heart, a mouth and a kidney, among other vital organs. But the most important morsel, at least to clam aficionados, is the gastrointestinal tract, siphons and gills, collectively known as the "belly." Clam bellies deliver a concentrated clam flavor, similar to clam "liquor" -- the fluid that surrounds the clam in the shell -- but you have to keep the belly intact to enjoy it.
Things You'll Need
- Stiff nylon brush
- Large pot
- 3 large bowls
- Clam knife
- Fine-mesh sieve or colander
- Tall, heavy-bottomed pot for frying
- Frying oil
- All-purpose flour
- Kosher salt
- Shallow dish or pie plate
- Cold cultured buttermilk
- Deep-frying or candy thermometer
- Plate or baking sheet
- Slotted spoon
- Paper towels
- Thick cotton kitchen towel or potholder
To Impale Is To Fail
Rinse each clam under cool running water and scrub the shell vigorously with a stiff nylon brush. Examine the clams for damage, such as cracks or chips, and for any that don't close, a sure sign of a dead clam. Discard damaged or dead clams. Put the good clams in a large pot.
Cover the clams with a saltwater solution consisting of 1/3 cup of salt and 1/2 cup of cornmeal to 1 gallon of water. The saltwater keeps the clams alive and, along with the cornmeal, helps purge the grit and other matter from their siphons and bellies. Put the pot in the fridge for at least three or four hours.
Take the pot out of the fridge and let it reach room temperature. The clams relax their adductor muscles when they warm up a little, which makes the shells easier to open.
Position a bowl on your work surface to catch the liquor when you open the clams. Hold the clam knife in your dominant hand and the clam on a thick kitchen towel or potholder in your other hand, with the shell in your palm and the flared edge of the clam next to the hinge facing your knife hand.
Work the tip of the clam knife into the small gap on the seam between the shell halves at the point where the shell flares out, next to the hinge.
Rotate your wrist clockwise to pry the shell open. Carefully pick away at the edges of the bits of clam that stick to the top shell -- one adductor muscle and a strip of muscle referred to as the "neck." The neck surrounds the clam "belly." Use a gentle picking-away motion to prevent impaling the belly with the clam knife.
Work the tip of the clam knife under the adductor muscle that connects to the lower half of the shell and gently pick it free. Place the shucked clam in a bowl and repeat with the remainder of clams. Discard the clam shells.
Place a fine-mesh sieve or colander over the bowl of clam liquor. Pour the shucked clams into the sieve to drain the remaining liquor.
Ready the Bellies For Your Belly
Fill a tall, heavy-bottomed pot with about 3 inches of oil with a high smoke point, such as peanut, corn or sunflower, and place it on the stove. Turn the heat to medium-high.
Mix flour with kosher salt and pepper in a ratio of 1 cup of flour to 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Pour cold cultured buttermilk into a bowl.
Attach a deep-frying or candy thermometer to the side of the pot and check the temperature. The oil should register between 350 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Raise or lower the heat as needed.
Dip the clams in the buttermilk one at a time, allow the excess buttermilk to drip back in the bowl, then dredge the clam in the seasoned flour. Place the clams on a plate or baking sheet, depending on how many you have. Space the clams about 1/4 inch apart.
Slide the clams into the oil one at a time by hand or with a slotted spoon. Space each clam about 1 inch apart in the oil so they won't stick together.
Fry the clams for about 30 seconds without moving them to set the breading. Stir the clams a few times after 30 seconds to prevent them from sticking to each other or the bottom the pot.
Fry the clams for a total of three minutes, or until they turn golden brown and float to the top of the oil. Remove the clams one at a time from the pot with a slotted spoon and place them on a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
Blot the top of each clam to lift the excess oil. Continue frying and draining the clams in batches, never adding more than the pot can handle at one time.
Tips & Warnings
- Reserve the clam liquor and use it to bolster the flavor of seafood sauces, soups and poaching liquids, or anything that would do well with the addition of the pure, unadulterated taste of clams. You can keep fresh clam liquor for up to two days in the refrigerator in an airtight food-storage container. Clam liquor should have no "off" or sour odor, cloudiness or sour taste. If it does, discard it.
- If you impale or otherwise damage the belly, it is no longer intact. The clam is still OK to eat, however.
- Always hold the clams with a thick kitchen towel or a pot holder in your non-knife hand when shucking. Even though clam knives have dull edges and rounded tips, they can pierce skin as easily as any kitchen knife can.
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