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~ Clam Sizing, Buying, Burping and Perfect Steaming ~

6a0120a8551282970b01bb096d0ac9970dSteamed clams are one of my favorite Summertime treats.  It's not unusual for us to pick up a few dozen, meaning three-four dozen.  We mostly enjoy them as a quick pre-dinner snack, but, we've been known to make an entire meal out of them too.  We simply sit around and fork-shuck 'em out of their open shells while they're plump and steaming -- as soon as they emerge from the liquid. One-at-a-time, each morsel gets dipped in some melted garlic-tarragon butter before eating. 

Clams come in many sizes, from quite large to quite small:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb096c85d7970dThe enjoyment of clams was an early passion predating America and even the European exploration of North America.  The Algonquin word for clams, “poquauhok”, eventually morphed into “quahog”, a now common term for hard clams.  Clams were so common in the New World that in 1641 the New Netherland Colony (the first Dutch colony to settle in North America) passed an ordinance stating that polished clam shells, strung as beads or belts and used by the surrounding local tribes as wampum (currency/money), would also serve as money in the colony.

Clams are found all along the eastern seaboard from Canada to Florida.  They are all the same species, they just vary in sizes.  There are no official regulations pertaining to how big a clam has to be to be labeled, but, because they are such slow growers (it takes 2-3 years for a clam to reach littleneck size and large chowder clams can be 30-40 years old), there are rules prohibiting harvesting of clams that are too small (less than 1" at the hinge).  Purchase what's available or what suits your purposes best.  My favorites are cherrystone (3"-4") and topneck (2"-3".

To soak & burp clams (to purge them of gritty sand):

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8c9e845970bSoaking clams in cold water helps them burp out or purge the sand.   All clams, which live on the ocean floor, contain sand.  It's caused by their constant siphoning the sandy ocean water through their shells. One of the least appetizing foodie experiences is to eat a forkful of perfectly-cooked clams and end up with grit in your teeth -- a clear sign that the cook or chef didn't burp or purge the clams.  Its an easy process but requires a couple of hours, so include that in your game plan (or do it the day before). 

Gently tap each uncooked clam whose shell is open against your countertop. It should close immediately upon tapping. If it does not, it's dead and should be discarded.  Rinse the clams under cold running water and use a stiff brush to scrub the shells of dirt or grit.  Place the clams in a large bowl and cover with a mixture of 1 gallon of water + 1/4 cup sea salt per 2 pounds of clams.  Let soak for 30-45 minutes, then remove the clams individually and place in a colander. Discard the water in the bowl, replace with a fresh water and salt mixture, then return the clams to soak for another 30-45 minutes. Repeat process another 2-3 times, until water is clear of sand. 

To perfectly-steam the clams -- my easy-peasy method:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb096d0ac9970dThe shells on clams should be closed when you buy them, or, they should close when tapped (as explained above).  A clam that will not close when prodded is a dead clam.  Throw it away.  Fiction:  A clam that doesn't open during the cooking process is a dead clam. Fact:  A clam that doesn't open during the cooking process is a live clam that needs to be cooked longer.  I've got 48 live topneck clams which have been purged as directed above -- that works out to 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2541d1b970cbe a generous 2-cups of shucked clams -- enough for two to four servings.  Feel free to change the amount to suit your purposes.  

I am giving them a basic steam in plain water today,  until each one opens up wide.  I like to use my electric skillet for this task because it controls the heat perfectly, and, it has a glass lid which acts as a window -- allowing me to remove each clam the moment it opens up, so it doesn't overcook.  I do this in two batches of 24 clams each so as not to overcrowd the skillet.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2541cbf970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2541cbf970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2541cbf970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2541cbf970c~Step 1.  Place 1 quart water in bottom of electric skillet and insert the rack.  Close the lid and adjust the heat to high (400° on this skillet).  In the meantime, drain and discard the water from the bowl of clams.  When the water in the skillet is boiling, open the lid and place 24 clams on the rack.  Close the lid and steam clams until each one pops open. Opening and closing the lid on the skillet as you work, use a pair of tongs to remove the steamed clams as they open, transferring them to a plate or a bowl to cool.  Repeat this process with the second 24 clams, adding 1-2 cups more water to the skillet to make up for what evaporated.  When cool enough to handle, pluck the clams from their shells and place in a bowl.  You will have 2+ cups.

Try my ~ Classic Clams (Clams on the Halfshell) Casino ~:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8c99756970bAnd my ~ Butter me Up Capellini a la Clams Casino ~:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8c9f982970b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2022)


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