- Start to Finish: 2 hours
- Servings: 4
- Difficulty Level: Intermediate
You cannot possibly take a trip through New England without seeing a shack with a sign boasting the world's best clam strips. Cut from the muscle of larger hard shell sea clams, such as cherrystones or quahogs, these strips are thin enough to cook in a flash. You needn't put up a sign; just follow the recipe and make your own reputation as the king or queen of clam strip cuisine.
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Although in some areas you can buy pre-cut clam strips from a fish market, making your own might be necessary and it comes off as an impressive feat of culinary expertise. Choosing the clams is key, as types vary wildly in size. Those delicate soft-shell little steamers won't work; get your hands on some hefty sea clams that provide more strip-worthy meat. For this recipe you'll need approximately the following numbers of shell-on clams:
- 25 topnecks OR
- 12 cherrystones OR
- 4 quahogs or chowders
No matter what kind of clam you choose, the minute you get them home, submerge them in tepid tap water and allow them to sit quietly for about 20 minutes. During this time, they'll spit out the sand. When you are ready to open and prepare them, don't just dump them in a colander or they will just rush to suck up more sand on the way down. Instead, scoop them gently (shhhhh....be vewy, vewy quiet) from the water with a slotted spoon.
Breading and Frying
- 2 cups clam strips, freshly cut or purchased
- 9 cups vegetable oil
- 1 cup whole buttermilk (low fat will work, too)
- 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup sifted cornstarch
- 1/3 cup sifted flour
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper (black's OK, too)
- 1 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
Cleaning and Cutting the Clam Strips
With a very sharp paring knife, trim all the meat from around the clam bellies (that big fat part in the middle). Cut the meat into 1/4-inch strips. The length isn't really important, but the strips have to be skinny enough to cook quickly. Put the strips in a colander inside a bowl large enough to cover the strips with cold water.
You can make use of the leftover clam bellies. Some find the larger ones really creepy, but if simmered gently for a long time with white wine, chopped garlic and butter, they make a rich broth to freeze for your next chowder or linguine with clams. Take care not to poke a hole in the bellies or you'll release a lot of green goo into your broth. Alternatively, give them to your Uncle Harry to use as bait on his next fishing trip.
In large pot or a deep fryer with a basket, heat the oil to 380 degrees Fahrenheit as you prepare the clam strips for frying.
Cooking the Strips
Drain the clams, discard the water, put the clams back in the bowl and pour the buttermilk over them.
In a large wide bowl, combine the cornmeal, cornstarch, flour, cayenne, black pepper and parsley. Next, drain the clams into a colander over a bowl, reserving the buttermilk in case you need it later.
Grab a handful of clam strips and swish them around in the flour mixture. Put them into a sieve and shake off the excess flour right back into the flour mixture bowl.
Drop the clams into the oil and fry for only about 1 1/2 minutes and then remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat cooking in small batches.
Substitutions and Variations
- Substitute 2 bags of Louisiana-style fish fry mix for the cornstarch, flour and spice mixture. Just add the parsley.
- Dredge lemon slices in the buttermilk and flour and fry them like the clams.
- Fry sprigs of parsley for a crunchy garnish.
Traditional accompaniments for clam strips include cole slaw, potato salad, corn on the cob and french fries. For a lighter repast, go with a crispy green salad with cucumbers and tomatoes.
All you need now are some lemon wedges, a bit of hot sauce, a tub of tartar sauce and a group of diners waiting for hot, fresh clam strips.