Recipe for the best steamed Maine clams ever! (Yeah, I’m a little biased.)
I love clams.
No I mean I really LOVE to EAT them . . .
When they are prepared properly, that is.
I recently had some clams that while they may have had a good flavor I just could not get past the sand. You heard me correctly - Sand.
While I will very much so enjoy a nice prepared meal in a nice restaurant, I do have a tendency to be overly critical sometimes. I don't mind paying a premium for a meal, when it is warranted. As one who knows his way around a kitchen, I really hate paying for a meal that I KNOW I could have prepared myself, with a much better end result.
OK, so let me share my own recipe for steamed clams.
With clams, you need to plan ahead. You cannot go out at 4:00 PM and pick up your clams for that evening's supper. I like to buy fresh clams the day before my planned meal. It really makes all the difference in the world.
Clams are also great to prepare for guests (and it is an easy way to impress out-of-towners).
What kind of clams?
Here in Maine, the clams we use for steaming are soft-shelled clams, also called steamers or large-necks. They are easily told apart from other species as they have a flat, long, and almost oval shaped shell. I have also seen hard-shelled clams steamed as well as clams called little necks and quahogs, and I have even heard of Pismo clams steamed. However, here, when we Mainahs refer to "steamers" they are a clam of the soft-shell variety as described above.
If you are planning on clams as your primary course, one to two pounds per person is a good amount. If you are having clams as a side course for a Lobster feed or a bar-be-cue, then one-half to one pound per person should be enough. The following recipe has the ingredient amount for about 6 pounds of our bivalve mollusks.
First buy your clams. I like to do this the afternoon or evening prior to when you plan to eat your clams.
If you have the opportunity, please hand-pick clams that look nice, have no broken shells, and are closed. Put your clams in a bowl - stoneware, glass or ceramic is best. Cover the clams with water. Add about one to two table spoons of a coarse kosher or sea salt per gallon of water. (Do NOT use IODIZED salt - the clams don't like iodine, they will die) Change the water and rinse the clams every 3 or 4 hours (or so). You really, really want the clams to purge themselves of any and all sand that they may have stored up. Keep the bowl in the refrigerator during this process.
You can verify the clam is still alive if the neck moves when touched. If the shell is open, tap on the shell; if the shell closes, that clam is alive. Also check for any clams that have moved out; those shells would be filled with mud and would not taste very good.
The last time you change the water, about a half hour to an hour prior to cooking, lightly brush the clam with a vegetable brush to clean the outside of the clam's shell. Put the bowl of clams in the sink and have fresh water slowly running over the clams until you are ready to cook them.
Prepare your steaming nectar.
1 cup cold water
1 cup dry sherry
½ cup olive oil (or EVOO as Rachel Ray would say)
½ to 1 cup finely chopped FRESH cilantro
4 to 6 cloves of minced FRESH garlic
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
With your nectar in the bottom of your steaming pot, turn the heat on HIGH, and add your clams. Cover with a tight fitting lid. Once the nectar boils, turn down to low and steam until the clams open, 5 to 8 minutes or so. Do NOT overcook - nobody likes rubbery clams.
While the clams are steaming, prepare some butter for dipping. Mince 1 to 2 large cloves of garlic into a small saucepan. Add ¼ pound (one stick) of butter. Over very low heat, melt the butter and simmer just for a couple of minutes to release the flavor of the garlic into the butter.
Remove the clams with a large slotted spoon to a serving bowl.
Strain the nectar through a fine mesh sieve. Top with coarse ground pepper, and pour into small mugs. This is great for dipping French bread or for drinking.
The meal is complete with French bread, and a large green salad and a tall pilsner glass of Sam Adams' Lager (for the over-21'ers).
I hope you enjoy this as much as my family does.