I grew up eating at Lundy’s in Sheepshead Bay once a week, and discovered the Sterns’ Roadfood
in my early twenties, so clams are an old hobby of mine. Deep down inside, I still believe that Lundy’s were the best ever, anywhere, but the new Lundy’s isn’t the old Lundy’s, so we’ll never know.
My ideal is the Ipswich/Essex model: no batter, no breading, and no crumbs—just the thinnest brittle mantle of fine corn flour (or a mixture of corn and wheat), clinging tightly to a tender, de-necked New England soft clam. The taste should be mostly of sweet, briny (and even slightly gamy) clam, with just a hint of the nutty taste and scent of roasted corn. There must be no fatty feel or aftertaste, no gaps between the coating and the clam, and none of the mushiness (hello, Woodman’s!) that results from mashing fried seafood too tightly into the bottom of a container. Each clam must be separate and distinct from its brethren and sistren, not an atom in some bready, clammy mass.
The best soft clams are the somewhat rectangular-shaped variety from New England and Long Island. I prefer mine medium-sized with at least a bit of belly goo, but I’ll take even tiny, goo-free New England clams over the bulbous, testicular monstrosities that seem to live in the warmer waters off New Jersey and Maryland (both for frying and for steaming). Many good clam shacks, including Bigelow's, source theirs, albeit pre-shucked, from the Ipswich Shellfish Company. Unfortunately, however, demand generally so outstrips supply these days, and prices have so risen, that “native Ipswich” clams, even served in Ipswich, are not necessarily native to Ipswich.