I grew up spending summers in a New England beach town, which meant a constant rotation of sandy beach towels drying on the porch railing, endless collections of periwinkle shells and deceased starfish, and of course, lots and lots of Fried Clams.
I love clam shacks, as most New Englanders do. It’s one of those things that is unique to our region. There’s also an element of nostalgia to clam shack cuisine, which is, I think, why you sometimes see pseudo-rustic clam shack-style places crop up in cities. City dwellers need a piece of the clam action too.
What to do if you live in neither a coastal New England town nor a city with a pseudo clam shack? In that case, dear reader, you’re on your own. The following recipe should get you through. It’s a mild blend of seasoning intended to bring out the best of the clam belly (that’s a globby part).
Many recipes I’ve seen for New England style fried clams call for a combination of corn flour and white flour. I have to say though, I’m not a super fan of corn flour. My recipe calls for a simple combination of white flour and seasonings.
While we’re on the topic of clams, I buy our shucked whole bellies from Essex Seafood. Their clams are harvested and shucked right there in Essex. Sometimes we’ll see clammers out in the flats at low tide collecting clams one by one. I asked the gentleman behind the counter today when I bought our clams if that’s really they way they’re harvested or if there is a more commercial, streamlined approach. He told me that that is really the way it’s done. So next time you enjoy an enormous clam platter at your neighborhood clam shack, think of how each and every delicious clam was hand picked. I swear you’ll appreciate each tartar-sauce-laden morsel even more.
New England Style Fried Clams – makes 2 appetizer-sized servings
3/4 C flour
1 t salt
2 t Spanish sweet paprika
1 t ground mustard
1/2 t ancho chili powder
1/2 lb fresh shucked whole belly clams, rinsed and drained
1 quart peanut oil
salt for seasoning
In a medium bowl mix flour, salt and spices.
Dredge the clams in the flour mixture and shake off the excess.
In a heavy pot (I like to use my cast iron because it’s heavier), on the back burner of the stove, heat the oil to 375 degrees. Once the oil is heated DO NOT ATTEMPT TO MOVE THE POT! Oil burns are among the most severe. Seriously, dude. And just leave it for a couple hours to cool completely when you’re done too.
Line a platter or large dish with paper towels.
Carefully drop the clams into the oil in batches, about a half cup at a time (7 or 8 clams). Cook 2 minutes. Remove with a spider or slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain. Let the oil get back up to 375 degrees before adding the next batch.
Drain on paper towels. Season to taste, if desired.
Serve hot with a squish of lemon and maybe a bit of tartar sauce.