5 Essential Steps to Enjoy Clams the Right Way

To truly enjoy clams, start by selecting fresh ones, storing them properly, cleaning them thoroughly, cooking them gently, and seasoning them well before serving to elevate their unique flavor.

what is the proper way to eat clams

Clams are a delicious and versatile seafood option that can elevate any meal with their unique flavor. To truly appreciate this delectable shellfish, it’s important to understand the essentials of selection, preparation, and cooking.

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Step 1: Selecting Fresh Clams

Clams, shellfish or molluscs texture, background. Top view

When choosing clams, freshness is key. Look for clams that are closed or that close quickly when tapped – this is a sign they are alive and fresh. Avoid clams with cracked shells or ones that have an off-putting smell, as this indicates they are no longer fresh. Fresh clams should smell like the ocean, a clean, salty scent that promises a natural, rich flavor.

Check the label or ask your fishmonger about the harvest date and source. Fresh clams are usually sold live, and their shelf life is limited, so it’s important to buy them close to the time you plan to cook them. When possible, choose clams that have been responsibly harvested and handled to ensure you’re getting the best quality and supporting sustainable practices.

Step 2: Proper Clam Storage

Once you’ve brought your fresh clams home, proper storage is crucial to maintain their quality. Clams should be stored in the refrigerator, ideally in a mesh bag or a bowl covered with a damp cloth, allowing them to breathe. Do not store them in an airtight container or submerge them in fresh water, as this can kill them.

They should be kept in the coldest part of the refrigerator and consumed within two days for optimal freshness. Always check the clams before cooking; discard any that have opened during storage and do not close when tapped. This is a sign that the clam has died and should not be eaten.

Step 3: Cleaning the Clams

Before cooking, clams must be thoroughly cleaned to remove any sand or grit. Begin by placing the clams in a large bowl of cold water and let them soak for about 20 minutes. This allows the clams to expel any sand trapped inside their shells. After soaking, scrub the clam shells with a stiff brush under running water to remove any debris from the exterior.

Some clams have a “beard,” a small piece of fibrous material sticking out of the shell, which should be removed before cooking. To do this, gently tug the beard towards the hinge of the shell until it detaches. If the clams are particularly dirty, they may need multiple changes of water, but be careful not to leave them soaking for too long as they can become waterlogged and lose their flavor.

As Chowhound explains in the video –

  1. Clam Preparation: Start by soaking fresh clams in a bowl of water for about 20 minutes to clean them on the outside and release any internal grit.
  2. Open Clams Inspection: Check for open clams and attempt to close them. If a clam remains open and doesn’t close, it indicates it’s dead, and it should be discarded.
  3. Fresh Clean Water: After the initial soak, transfer the clams to another bowl of fresh, clean water to eliminate any remaining grit. Avoid dumping the water to prevent reintroducing sand onto the clams.
  4. Saltwater Soak: Consider using salt water for the second soak, as it mimics the ocean environment. Adding a bit of cornmeal can agitate the clams and speed up the cleaning process.
  5. Agitation Technique: Using salt water and cornmeal helps clams open and close, facilitating the cleaning process by encouraging them to expel sand and grit.
  6. Multiple Soaks: Soak the clams three times, always using cold water. Avoid warm or hot water, as it can cause the clams to die before cooking.
  7. Preserving Freshness: Cold water helps keep the clams alive and vibrant, ensuring they are in optimal condition when introduced to the cooking pan.
  8. Scrubbing Process: After the three soaks, use a scrub brush to ensure there is no remaining grit or dirt on the outside of the clams before cooking.
  9. Visible Results: The video demonstrates the effectiveness of the cleaning process by showcasing the grit and sand left behind in the water after soaking the clams.
  10. Ready for Cooking: Once the clams are thoroughly cleaned, they are ready to be used in the chosen recipe, ensuring a delicious and grit-free clam dish.

Step 4: Cooking Methods

Clams can be prepared in a variety of ways, each bringing out a different aspect of their flavor and texture. Steaming is one of the most popular methods, as it gently cooks the clams and keeps them tender. To steam, simply place the clams in a pot with a small amount of liquid (water, wine, or broth), cover, and cook until the shells open, indicating they are done.

Other methods include grilling, boiling, frying, or incorporating clams into soups and stews. Each method offers a unique taste experience, from the smoky flavor of grilled clams to the rich, comforting taste of clams in a hearty chowder. No matter the method, it’s important to cook clams just until they open to ensure they remain tender and not rubbery.

Step 5: Seasoning & Serving

Sauteed olive oil clams with black pepper in a serving tray.

Seasoning is essential to highlight the natural flavors of clams. Simple seasonings like garlic, butter, parsley, and lemon juice can enhance the taste without overpowering it. For a more robust flavor, incorporate herbs like thyme, oregano, or a splash of white wine.

When serving clams, present them in their shells for a visually appealing dish. Discard any clams that haven’t opened after cooking, as they may not be safe to eat. Serve immediately after cooking to enjoy their full flavor and perfect texture. Accompany with crusty bread to soak up any delicious broth or sauce.

Clam Varieties to Try

There are many varieties of clams available, each with a distinct size, flavor, and texture. Littlenecks and Cherrystones are small and tender, perfect for raw preparations or quick cooking methods like steaming. Quahogs, or chowder clams, are larger and ideal for soups and stews due to their robust flavor.

Manila clams, with their sweet taste, are great for pasta dishes, while Razor clams offer a unique shape and a delicate flavor that shines in simple sautés. Experimenting with different types can lead to new and exciting culinary experiences, so don’t hesitate to try a variety you’ve never cooked before.

Tools for Clam Preparation

Hand holding freshwater golden clams, Corbicula fluminea, freshly harvested from an Indonesian lake by a local farmer.

Having the right tools can make preparing clams easier and more enjoyable. A clam knife is essential for shucking raw clams if you plan to serve them on the half shell. A sturdy brush is necessary for cleaning the exteriors, and a large pot with a tight-fitting lid is crucial for steaming.

For those who enjoy grilled clams, a grilling basket can keep them secure and make it easier to handle them on the grill. Additionally, a pair of kitchen shears can be handy for trimming the beard or dealing with any tough parts of the clam.

Common Clam Cooking Mistakes

One common mistake is overcooking clams, which makes them tough and chewy. As soon as the shells open, the clams are ready to eat; any additional cooking time can ruin their delicate texture. Another error is not properly cleaning the clams, which can result in sandy, gritty bites that detract from the enjoyment of the dish.

Failing to discard clams that remain closed after cooking is a safety concern, as these clams might be dead and potentially harmful if consumed. Always be attentive to these details to ensure a safe and pleasurable dining experience.

Pairing Wine with Clams

The right wine can complement the delicate flavors of clams beautifully. Typically, light, crisp white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, or a dry Chardonnay pair well with the briny, sweet taste of clams. The acidity and minerality of these wines can cut through the richness and enhance the overall flavor profile.

For creamier clam dishes like chowders, a fuller-bodied white wine with a touch of oak, like an oaked Chardonnay, can stand up to the dish’s richness. Remember, the goal is balance; the wine should not overpower the clams but rather work in harmony with them.

Clam Health Benefits & Nutrition

Clams are not only flavorful but also packed with nutritional benefits. They are an excellent source of lean protein, low in fat, and rich in vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B12, iron, manganese, and selenium. This combination supports a healthy immune system, energy production, and overall well-being.

Additionally, clams are a sustainable seafood choice with a lower environmental impact compared to other protein sources. Including clams in your diet can be a delicious way to enjoy a healthy meal while also being environmentally conscious.

Enjoying clams the right way requires a bit of knowledge and preparation, but the delicious results are well worth the effort. By following these essential steps, you’ll be able to savor the natural taste of clams and create memorable dishes that highlight this fantastic seafood.

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