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bobmac

Steamed clam question

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I have enjoyed steamed clams, the soft-shell kind, all my life, but in the past year have had a couple of orders that were just bland. The first time I suspected overcooking, because it was a big place and a slow day. I thought maybe they had precooked and reheated them. Yesterday, however, while many of the clams were tasteless, a few were OK. What could account for this?


"Last week Uncle Vinnie came over from Sicily and we took him to the Olive Garden. The next day the family car exploded."

--Nick DePaolo

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I am glad that you made mention of this for I have been wondering some things about steamers, in general. How do you start off a new topic? I am still very new to this and still trying to find my way around.

Steamers are a soft-shell clam as I have seen in markets and restaurants. Are they dug out of the mud and sand in the same manner as littlenecks. I have been disappointed purchasing them at the markets on Commercial Street (Free Range and Harbor) for a good portion are usually cracked and broken. Any tricks or methods to determine on whats alive and to easily identify ones that have passed on. They are often really, really dirty and have not had the best results in rinsing them in several times of cold, fresh water. Surely this is the reason for the accompanying broth, but there are always several clams with residual grit.

Is the traditional method just to steam them in cold water? Any other choices here? Seawater? Beer? Would it make senses to add in herbs or any other aromatics?

Last query, what is the difference between a soft-shell steamer clam and one finds as the Traditional Fried Clam (whole belly)? Is it the same? They do not taste as sweet, but I have determined that fried clams are definitely not littlenecks or cherrystones.

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Yes, soft-shell clams are used for both steamers and fried clams. Seawater is generally my choice, although beer can be good as well. Can't speak to why in a given batch some would be tastless and others good, unless the clams were from different sources.


"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

~ Fernand Point

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Thanks for the info. I agree that most of the steamers that I had over the past few months were of mixed results. Leaning more towards the bad side. I am going to definitely use sea water for steaming now. When I cooked them, I basically poured about an inch of water to a covered pan. Would it be better to actually 'steam' them above the water by means of a rack or is it just terminology?

What is the best way to clean the soft-shell clams prior to frying? Are you really rinsing the individual whole clames after opening and removing from the shell?

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if the clams look real white and clean then they are canadian farmed clams. very bland compared to maine wild steamers which have darker shells.

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Thanks for the info.  I agree that most of the steamers that I had over the past few months were of mixed results.  Leaning more towards the bad side.  I am going to definitely use sea water for steaming now.  When I cooked them, I basically poured about an inch of water to a covered pan.  Would it be better to actually 'steam' them above the water by means of a rack or is it just terminology?

What is the best way to clean the soft-shell clams prior to frying?  Are you really rinsing the individual whole clames after opening and removing from the shell?

We used to 'soak' the clams in sea water for 12-24 hrs with a cup of cornmeal mixed in-- Clams are filter feeders, and sometimes the grit is internal-- the cornmeal gets sucked in as the little yummies are looking for food, expelling most of the grit..makes their bellies a bit softer...and less crunchy.

Your method of cooking is what I usually do--as long as the bottom clam isn't submerged...

If you can, dig your own... they taste much better (but be careful of local laws)

KV


All that is needed for evil to survive is for good people to do nothing

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We used to 'soak' the clams in sea water for 12-24 hrs with a cup of cornmeal mixed in

Exactly.

The rub, however, is that few are close enough or hale enough sometimes, to acquire seawater (If one lives within a mile of ocean, go to the nearest pier and lower a roped bucket into the water and transfer to a water jug). Otherwise, fresh water with a healthy dose (1 cup/gallon) of seasalt will do the trick. Cornmeal works best as mentioned, but I don't know about 12-24 hrs, I've had good results with just three, but that could be attributed to the freshness of the product.

When making fried clams yourself, it's easier to steam them open and remove from their shells rather than shucking them from their brittle shells before battering. If you can dig it out from under the ice and snow, gather a couple handfuls of rockweed to add to the pot so the clams sit on top of it while they steam.

I've never known a batch of clams bought without at least one broken critter. I tried clamming for a couple days. It's back-breaking work, but if your just collecting them for a big meal it's a blast. Dress appropriately, expect to get mud and muck everywhere and have your permits up-to-date and in your posession.

In the State of Maine you can take up to ½ bushel a day for your own personal use without a state commercial shellfish license, however, you must contact the town where you intend to harvest the clams to find out whether or not you need a town license. Areas closed to harvesting can be found here.


Edited by johnnyd (log)

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

Portland Food Map.com

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Thanks for the reponses and I am a little better versed now. Pardon any redundencies in a PM. Can one go clam-digging all year? Is there a better time or trends to looks for - basically when it is not freezing rain, like this morning.

I would definitely be interested in hearing more about digging and even trying it out. Any local Mainers willing to make a go of it when the weather improves? How would I find out more about permits?

Maybe it is an obvious question because variety is the spice of life. When someone either digs their own clams or buys a significant quantity, is the practice to make both fried clams and steamers for consumption? Seems like that would be my natural choice.

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It has been many years since I have dug myself, but I think most Mainers probably steam, as good fried clams are plentiful in Maine (whether you prefer batter or crumbs is a personal preference), and steaming really brings out the full flavor of the clam. I don't know nearly as many who fry their own, although it is certainly doable.


"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

~ Fernand Point

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Another thing to do while checking to see if you need a licence is to see if the area is closed to clamming for whatever reason, PSP (paralytic shellfish poisoning) or other diseases as well.

Ask the locals as they would have the best information.

Just want everyone to be safe, that's all. :biggrin:

Keep on shucking

Oyster Guy


"Why then, the world is mine oyster, which I with sword, shall open."

William Shakespeare-The Merry Wives of Windsor

"An oyster is a French Kiss that goes all the way." Rodney Clark

"Oyster shuckers are the rock stars of the shellfish industry." Jason Woodside

"Obviously, if you don't love life, you can't enjoy an oyster."

Eleanor Clark

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We usually steam clams in beer/water mix -- the more full-flavored the brew, the better. :biggrin:

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I don't think that anyone has mentioned one key step to eating steamers, which is serving a big mug of the steaming liquid for dunking to get off any extra grit. And butter, of course, for dunking to add on any extra calories.

Oh, and those little turtleneck sweaters the clams are wearing? Don't eat 'em.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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So why were they bland?


"Last week Uncle Vinnie came over from Sicily and we took him to the Olive Garden. The next day the family car exploded."

--Nick DePaolo

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So why were they bland?

Beyond the possible regional discrepancies, I think handling and storage after harvest is probably to blame. Also, if they are left in a cornmeal bath with fresh water instead of seawater or salted water, that could ruin the flavor. Fresh water is not a storage medium for shellfish, it will kill the animals, pronto.


"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

Portland Food Map.com

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Well I think it can be surmised that the best overall preparation is to purge them with the cornmeal in cold sea water. Drain and quickly steam the soft-shell ("pisser") clams w/ fresh boiling sea water using the rockweed as a effective base. That remainder of liquid is served as the accompanying broth for dipping.

For my taste, the quality of the butter is equally important and it really makes a difference in any method of cooking, but especially here. Knowing the restaurant industry, I would guess that many mid-level establishments serve simply melted blended butter. For the unintiated (I certainly had never heard of it prior to moving to Maine), it is a 20-30% butter blend with the remainder being margarine or hydrogenated, emulsified oils. Reason: half the price. Sysco and other large scale purveyors (Northcenter, US Foods) sell nearly four times as much compared to butter. Not that their respective butter(s) are any great shakes or any better than mediocre quality, but at least one knows what it is. All for what amounts to several cents in restaurant owners pocket.

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in case anyone is south of the city, the chieftan in plainville (or is that over the boarder into north attleboro?) serves up a big bucket of steamers for about $18. (used to be $9.95 a few years ago <sigh>) they're anything BUT tasteless. had a bucket there two weeks ago, and they couldn't have been better...of course, steaming them with spicy hunks of linguica helps too.

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Thanks for the recommendation. I assume that south of the city means Boston? I always thought it was great that the New Bedford / Buzzard's Bay area was great due to its Portugues heritage and its wonderful mix of cultures. I have never added linguiça to steamers, but imagine the mingling of the flavors works great. As johnnyd surely could attest to, Portugal has traditionally marries pork and shellfish with great success.

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I know it's a little early in the year, but this great weather outside has me inspired. I cannot wait to grill over a wood fire in the spring. Cooking littlenecks on the edge of the grill until they open - a quick brushing of herb and garlic butter and a drizzle of chorizo oil and there you have a great finger food while you wait for the remainder of dinner to finish cooking.

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