Sunday, October 28, 2007

My Favorite Food, No Exceptions: CLAMS!!

Hello again, welcome to Mike's fascination with all things food, continued. Today's topic will take a bit of time, as there are so many ways to cook and eat clams, as the photos show. There's various styles of fried clams as shown above, the best of the best food in my opinion. Then steamed clams, baked in a clambake outing, clam chowder(pronounced 'chowda' here), and others not shown, such as clam cakes, clam fritters, clam dip, etc. Hard to believe that all this yummy goodness comes from a shellfish harvested from tidal mud-flats in the manner depicted in the photo at top. You likely can determine which dish is which, and there ARE more photos of various ways to serve fried clams depicted, wonder why I did that? Another of life's mysteries I guess.
So, on to a brief bit about some of this food. Clambakes are a traditional way of cooking in the summer for family reunions or other special occasions, like tourists wanting to attend one. It basically involves making a pit on the beach and following one of several ways of cooking the ingredients, along with whichever other foods you want to add. It's very doubtful anyone will attempt this at home, so we'll move along to other, more practical methods.
Up first, my favorite, deep fried WHOLE BELLY clams. NOT the little tough clam necks served elsewhere, WHOLE BELLY clams. It’s interesting how each place prepares their clams differently. From clam shacks to fine restaurants, the manner in which these are done are often poles apart. What I feel qualifies as a measure of goodness, is the fresh flavors and juiciness of the clams after they emerge from the deep-fryer. The preference for either a batter, breadcrumb, or crushed corn flake coating is matter of personal preference too. I prefer the corn flake coating because it's lighter. Batter dipped or bread crumbs are also excellent alternatives.
Clams that have had their bellies removed are, to me anyway, unacceptable, other than for a TV watching snack with some ale. With clams and flavor, bellies are everything, plus, fresh whole clams don't usually have that terrible chewy toughness some associate with fried clams. I love biting into one and letting the juicy, tender ecstasy explode in my mouth. The practice of removing bellies is not often seen in Maine. The best clams come sizzling from the fryer, by the half-pint ($3.15) or pint ($6.25), about 16 clams to the pint, so hot you can hardly bear to touch them. Clams served in restaurants are served hot, but not sizzlingly so. They're still a great meal. Folks here generally eat them lightly salted and plain(my way) or gently sprinkled with vinegar or lemon juice. Wonderful road trip finger food.
For the next two ways of preparing and serving clams I'm simply going to provide some easy instructions for steamed clams and one variety of Maine traditional clam chowder. The chowder recipe calls for 'Oyster Crackers', but as these can't even be found in some Maine locales, saltines will do fine if you desire crackers. My own preference is light salt and fresh ground black pepper only. I hope some of you try this super food, although I'm sure that some areas are slightly 'clam poor'. However, with today's air transportation systems and rapid rail, they probably do appear in some unlikely places.
Up here, one of the biggest festivals of the year is the 'Yarmouth Clam Festival' which celebrates all things clam, from shucking competitions to free samples and everything in between. It generally draws crowds of fifty-thousand plus from all over. Some people even plan their Maine vacation trips around it.Until next time, take care and happy eating.

Steamed Clams

The best part is they are so easy to cook. As the name implies, you are going to steam the clams. Start with a pot that looks too big. You'll be happy to have the extra space. Start with about 1" of water in the bottom and add your clams. Put on high heat and stand by. Steamers contain a lot of natural juice, so you can expect plenty of bouillon when they are done. When they start to steam, be on your toes. If your pot isn't big enough they will often boil over. It takes about 10-12 minutes of hard steaming for them to cook. The shells will gap wide open and the meats should slide out of the shell without sticking. Don't forget to remove the black membrane that covers the neck (siphon) before eating. Serve with the bouillon from cooking and drawn butter. When purchasing, figure on 2 ½ - 3 lbs. per person for a main course, much less for a side dish.

Maine Clam Chowder Recipe

5 cups bottled clam juice
1 cup of flour
1 cup onion, finely diced
10 slices of cooked bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons of margarine
8 oz of cooked clams, chopped
4 medium potatoes, cooked and cut in bite sized chunks
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup light cream
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper

Heat the clam juice in a large saucepan on medium heat. In a separate pan, melt margarine and saute the diced onions until they appear translucent. Add bacon and flour to the melted margarine and stir continuously for 5 minutes. Increase heat on clam juice to medium-high, and with a wire whisk, add flour, margarine and onion mixture to the liquid. Stir constantly, breaking up any lumps that form. Add clams and stir. Add potato chunks, milk, cream, and salt and continue stirring. Decrease heat to medium-low, and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning or sticking.

Serve hot with oyster crackers (or saltines), adding freshly ground black pepper to taste.

If fresh clams are not available, substitute six ounces of canned clams, including the juice.


cwilcox said...

Kinda makes me crave a clam sandwich! I gotta go get me some!

Mies said...

Oh what memories this story brings to my mind...When we'd visit my Uncle at Moclips on the Washington coast, he'd have a bowl of clams marinating in buttermilk in his fridge. He would dig clams often as he lived so close to the beach. He liked the big Geoduck clams. After they were marinated, he would roll them in cracker crumbs and then fry them. He made what he called clam steaks....excellent!
I love clam chowder and your recipe looks yummy...Good informative story...Thanks...

Patricia said...

Hah, thanks for the clam chowder recipe, Mike. Love that. I haven't given the other ways to cook them enough attention, got annoyed with some rubbery, impossible to chew fried ones early in life, and have avoided them since, in every form except chowder. Is it time to have another go? Maybe.
Have a good day.

SagaciousHillbilly said...

WHOA! Mike, Those clams look fantastic. Having grown up on summertime New England clam bakes I too think clams are the food of the gods. I've always loved them raw, steamed, baked or fried. A couple times a year, Miss Pasta and I order fresh ones from Fisherman's Fleet in Ipswich. She spent her summers in Essex where her mother grew up. Yea, we love clams. . . and good food.
Have you ever tried Pacific oysters? Once you go with them, you'll never look at another east coast oyster the same.
Man, we gotta have clams for Christmas, but I hate paying shipping costs.

Brother Tim said...

We like clams down here on the Gulf Coast too! When we fry our clams, we use what is called 'fish fry'. It's a seasoned cornmeal, ground to a talcom powder consistancy. And I agree with the belly part.

Cherie said...

That chowder's got me salivating!

Hahn at Home said...

Clams are a favorite here too, though I don't get them fresh often enough. Linguine with clam sauce (made by moi--ssshhhh) are the kids' favorite meal.

FENICLE said...

My husband loves clam chowder, but finds that not everywhere makes it the same. He's had some that was awesome & some that were awful. Sounds like you found a winner!!

Princess Extraordinaire said...

I love you for all the effort you put into these posts but I can't stand clams - I am allergic to seafood so that may have something to do with it...

Dana Dane said...

i don't eat seafood mainly because i never tasted anything but lobster but for soem odd reason for the past year i see it on tv and been craving it

sandwriter said...

mmm... sounds yummy mike! i had clam chowder once at a red lobster restaurant, new york. other than that i don't remember ever eating a clam...sounds like i have something to look forward to.

Kay said...

I LOVE clam chowda.