How to Eat Littleneck Clams

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Littlenecks, a small variety of hard-shelled quahogs, or clams, grow prolifically along the northeastern coast of the U.S. from Maine to Florida The slightly sweet and tender clams have a hinge width of about 2 inches and are typically served raw or steamed. Clams take only minutes to cook, making them perfect for a light meal when you don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Season the clams with oil or butter for flavor and pair them with your favorite side dish.

Things You'll Need

  • Salt
  • Cornmeal
  • Stiff brush
  • Butter
  • Garlic
  • Wooden spoon
  • White wine
  • Clam knife
  • Crushed ice
  • Platter
  • Lemon juice
  • Cocktail sauce
  • Hot sauce

Steamed

Soak the clams in a mixture of 1 cup of salt to 3 quarts of water if they weren’t cleaned at the market. Add 1 cup of cornmeal to the water to encourage the clams to purge the sand from their shells. Leave them for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight.

Brush the shells with a stiff brush and rinse them under cold running water to remove any residual sand.

Warm a medium or large saucepan, depending on the number of clams, over medium heat. Melt 1 tbsp. of butter in the pan, then lightly brown 1 tsp. of minced garlic.

Place the littleneck clams in the saucepan and stir them gently with a wooden spoon to coat them with the butter sauce. Spread the clams into a single, uniform layer to avoid crowding. The clams need space to open up as they steam.

Pour 1/4 cup of water or white wine into the hot saucepan for each dozen in the pot. Cover the pot with a lid for 3 to 4 minutes to steam. The shells open as the clams cook.

Toss the steamed clams, shells intact, with spaghetti or linguini noodles for an Italian seafood dinner, or sprinkle your favorite cheese and minced garlic over the clams and broil them, still in the shells, for 5 minutes or until the cheese melts for a simple appetizer. Or simply melt butter in a small dish to dip the steamed clams.

Raw

Clean the clams using the same method as if you were steaming them.

Place the clams in the freezer for an hour before you want to open them. Freezing them encourages the shells to open, according to the Recipe Tips website.

Hold the shell over a bowl and insert a clam knife directly between the upper and lower shell. Slide the knife around the opening of the shell to sever the muscle that keeps the shells clamped. Twist the knife in either direction to force the shell open. Scoop the clam out of the shell using the knife to detach the meat.

Place crushed ice and clams on a platter to serve chilled raw clams on the half-shell. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the clams for a refreshing taste, or add a dollop of cocktail sauce to each shell. For a spicy kick, add a couple drops of your favorite hot sauce to each shell before you eat the clams.

Tips & Warnings

  • Plan on serving 1 lb. of clams per person for the main dish of the meal.

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