Maine clams – from steamers, to fried, to clam chowder, to clam pie, to linguine with clam sauce – they’re the ultimate Maine seafood.
A couple weeks ago I talked about fried clams and shared a recipe for onion rings. I told a story about Betty Olson eating the raw clams, that she fried at her restaurant, out of the can. Gross.
I got an email from Frank (who didn’t reveal his last name) asking about those gross raw clams: “I enjoyed your article on the fried onion rings, but it would have helped me on your description of fried clams had you explained how fresh soft-shell clams are opened and prepared for deep frying. Are they lightly steamed open, thus allowing easy removal of the black membrane on the neck?”
Good question, Frank. Of course I had to find out.
I called The Fresh Lobster Co., thefreshlobstercompany.com, that sells shucked clams in Gloucester, Mass., and talked to Ted. He told me the clams are shucked raw, by hand, just as oysters are. Being a skeptic by nature, I asked about getting them out in one fell swoop, and about removal of the black membrane. “No sweat,” Ted said, not in those exact words.
He said, as I suspected, that shucking clams is easy when you know how, but it can be tricky and time-intensive, so if you want to make your own fried clams, just buy them shucked. Better yet, just go to a good fried clam joint, order a Manhattan, and sip it while waiting for dinner. So much easier.
I also talked to Ralph Smith, who owns Boathouse Bistro, Mine Oyster, and Cod’s Head in Boothbay Harbor. He concurred.
Fried clams are totally outrageous, but steamers are right up there. I’ve had steamers a couple times lately, and seriously? I don’t know why I don’t have them more often. I had some at Robinson’s Wharf on my birthday, the day I turned 28 :-), and they were sweet and firm – nice little bundles of briny deliciousness.
I stopped at Pinkham’s elegant new market in Boothbay Harbor a couple weeks later and picked up a couple pounds to steam at home. Just as good, if not better. Those, with melted butter, a good crusty baguette, a salad, and a glass of wine – red, white, rose – who cares – makes for a simple, if sublime, dinner.
Then there’s linguine with white clam sauce. OMG. Talk about simple but sublime. It’s so simple you really don’t need a recipe, but I’m going to give you one anyway. The one I make is from an old boyfriend who started Tufulio’s, at Sugarloaf, and McSeagull’s, in Boothbay Harbor. He and his partner came up with the names for both and ran them for several years before selling.
Joe was a great cook (not such a great boyfriend, but we won’t get into that). You don’t need, or want, fresh whole clams for white clam sauce. You want minced clams (not chopped) in a can.
Just get some good extra virgin olive oil heating – a lot – around 1/4-cup per couple cans of clams. Throw a good heaping tablespoon of chopped garlic in and cook till it starts to turn light brown. Oh man – can’t you smell it now?
Dump the clams in, broth and all, and let simmer for 10 minutes or so while you sip a Manhattan, or a martini (see below).
Throw in a chunk of butter and a handful of chopped-up flat leaf parsley, or whatever kind of parsley you want, and, of course, a generous pinch of salt.
That’s it. Could it be any simpler? Cook some linguine and spoon the heavenly smelling stuff over it. Sprinkle a healthy dose of grated parm on top, or stir it into the pasta before dumping the sauce over it, which is how I like it. Either way, you’re in for a memorable, and moveable, feast.
You’re going to want a good crusty baguette to go with this, too. The sauce is thin and you’ll need something to sop up every last drop. Trust me.
Some people thicken white clam sauce with cornstarch. Don’t do it. Or do it, but don’t invite me over for dinner.
Just FYI, I waited on tables at Tufulio’s for a short time back in the old days. I remember serving this to people who had come in out of the cold, after a day of hitting the slopes. They always loved it, but for some reason I never got a decent tip. So I quit.
I’ll give you my mother’s recipe for clam pie soon. Talk about awesome.
P.S. I have a confession. I used to drink martinis during the summer and Manhattans when the snow fell. I recently had dinner with my sister, Wendy, her (kind of) husband, Lar, and our cousin Rich. I ordered the requisite Manhattan, and Wendy and Rich ordered martinis. I have this thing about coveting other people’s stuff, and when I saw their martinis, with big olives, I was a little jealous. So I have started having a martini instead of a Manhattan now and then.
I just felt a little guilty and thought I should admit that. Not that you care.
And the beat goes on. See ya next week.
(Suzi Thayer paints, feeds stray cats, eats good food, and drinks Manhattans. She’d love to hear from you with ideas and recipes for her column. Email email@example.com.)