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Recipe for the best steamed Maine clams ever! (Yeah, I’m a little biased.)

Updated on May 19, 2008

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.


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      ernie thompson 

      6 years ago

      Forgot to say to u non-mainers. We called em Piss clams.

    • profile image

      Ernie Thompson 

      6 years ago

      im originally from maine (waterville) altho i lived all over. My dad was a barber. Now i am 84 and still love to cook my own clams and lobsthas. My girlfriend and daughter coming today to get a taste of maine cookin. Thanks for the recipes.

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      6 years ago

      wilbry: you're a silly goose!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Simply fantastic recipe; thanks for sharing!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      really a lot of work steam them and eat them a little sand is good for you

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      Karen Thomas 

      9 years ago

      It's really hard when you live in a little town in the MIDDLE of Arizona (Camp Verde). We retired here from California and I have trouble finding FRESH seafood (and other ingredients), so when I do find some at the local grocery store, I'm ecstatic. I often have to order special ingredients on line. I'm from the Pacific Coast (San Francisco Bay Area--where EVERYTHING was available) and my parents used to buy fresh "steamers" at the "Fish Market" on San Carlos Street in San Jose, California, and steamed them for a meal and drank the broth in a cup. They put water, onion, garlic and a little minced pimento (2 Tblsp) in the broth--It was yummy (however, since I'm going to add heavy cream, I think I'll leave out the pimento--I want the "broth" to taste closer to New England Clam Chowder without the chunks of clam, celery and potato). I don't remember my parents adding EVOO or butter. I bought some clams yesterday, have soaked them in water and sea salt in the refrigerator, changing the water several times to let the clams "breathe" to remove the sand from the clam's stomaches and I am ready to cook them tonight. I think instead of the EVOO I'll put a little unsalted butter (maybe 3T) in (Yes, Paula Dean, real BUTTER--love her!). I will add a little heavy cream (1 cup) at the end after I take the clams out for the broth and add some crushed Thyme (a small "pinch")--but this depends on what the broth taste like without the butter and cream and Thyme--it will be a last minute decision. When I make clam chowder (New England style), I always add crushed Thyme and it complements the flavor of the clams very well (another thing I can't find here...good New England Clam Chowder so I have to make my own with canned minced clams and a bottle of Clam broth). We used to go to Point Reyes and dig for Horseneck clams and I really miss FRESH clams. I've read several other recipies. I've found this is the best way for me to come up with the best recipe for our own purposes. I love the internet because you can always find so many different recipes and "modify" or "merge" several of them together until I get the taste and texture I'm looking for. I love "experimenting" this way and the results are always delectible. Emeril, eat your heart out! The neighbors love me as I'm always having them down for dinner and feed them really really good food--five star! Like the person who wrote the article above on clams, I often find myself complaining about restaurants' food and how I could cook it better--for example: went out for mexican food on Valentine's Day and was disappointed. I'm not Hispanic, I'm Caucasion, but I can fix better Mexican food than any restaurant in Camp Verde, and, there's no place in town where I can get good Chinese Wonton soup I make my own!!!! My neighbors were orignally from Chicago and they said my wonton soup is the best WonTon soup they've ever had...they used to go to a wonderful Chinese restaurant in Chicago and said mine is better and brings back good memories for them! I have a neighbor who is Hispanic and he says I make the best cheese enchiladas and chili rellenos ever. Anyway, I am lookiing forward to Clams for dinner with a rich broth and some fresh, warm French Bread and BUTTER and a glass of chilled Caifornia Inglenook Chardonay! Yummmmmmmmm. By the way, My MOM makes the best fried oysters ever, dipped in saltine cracker crumbs (put through the food processor and chopped until fine) and fried until the chewy parts are just a little crisp (don't turn them too soon or you'll lose the "breading" in the skillet) Serve with fresh lemon wedges, mac and cheese shells and cole slaw with apples in it. Simple, but so good. Anyway, I absolutely love to cook! Thanks to all for the recipe ideas. Hope somebody else enjoys my version of steamed clams and "broth". Plus, the clams and broth are a great meal in 15 minutes, start to finish!


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