Enjoy a Traditional Steamer Clam Recipe From Cape Cod

The Maine lobster clambake with freshly harvested steamer clams is one of those wonderful summertime dinners that locals enjoy up and down the New England coast. But for many people, a basket of freshly cooked steamers can be a fabulous dock-side lunch or dinner all by themselves.

The steamer is a soft shell clam known by many names. Steamers can be called the Ipswich clam, the long neck clam, the belly clam, the fried clam and other not so flattering terms. The shell is soft enough to break with your fingers. Steamers are readily identified because the long neck, or snout, stick out of the shell. They are harvested from saltwater sandbars and saltwater mud flats. The clams live in the sand just below the surface and are famous for “squirting” water when people walk by, making them easy to find.

Freshly cooked steamer clams on a plate
Fresh soft shell steamer clams

The best soft shell clams are still harvested by hand and are usually available year round, except when the flats freeze. They are sold daily to markets and stored in mesh bags in large, airy coolers. Although easy to prepare, it is important to follow some basic steps.

Ipswich Steamer Clams Recipe Popular in Boston and Cape Cod

Traditional soft shell steamer clam recipe serving two to four people

Cleaning the Clams:

At least one hour before cooking, place the clams in a clean sink (no soap or other residue) and just cover the clams with cold water. Add two drops of white vinegar to the water to help the clams expel any sand they have in their shells. Stir the clams gently and let soak for 10 minutes. Drain the sink flushing any sand residue. This time without vinegar, cover the clams with cold water again, gently stir, and let soak for five minutes. Drain. Discard any clams with broken shells.

steamer kettle for lobster and clams
Traditional kettle for steaming clams

Ingredients:

White vinegar
Four pounds of freshly dug steamer clams
2 large stalks of fresh celery
2 medium yellow onions
1 stick salted butter
1 fresh lemon

Steamer Clam Preparation:

Clean steamer clams with white vinegar as described
Cut celery stalks into two inch pieces
Cut onions into two inch quarters
Cut lemon into ¼ size wedges
Melt butter and place in ramekins
Add water to large steaming kettle or lobster pot 1/4th of the way up

Cooking Steamers:

Bring to roiling boil
Place steamers, onions and celery into pot at the same time and cover
Gently stir clams twice
Cook for 12 minutes until the clam shells open (do not overcook)

Serving:

Drain broth from the kettle into ramekins.
Squeeze lemon wedges into melted butter
Remove clams from kettle and discard any unopened shells
Serve immediately

Note: Dip to wash clam in broth and then use the fingers to remove the membrane covering the neck. Most people will eat the entire clam, while some leave the neck. Dip clam in the melted butter and enjoy.  As an aside, don’t forget that day boat scallops are now in season and can be ordered for home delivery.

Recipe courtesy Aimee C. Nichols, private chef.

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