How to Cook Fresh Steamer Clams

Preparing & Handling Steamers

  •  Because the shells are soft, you are bound to find a small number of clams broken. Shells may open or gape naturally: this does not necessarily mean the product is spoiled or dead. The siphon or neck, of a soft-shell clam will constrict when touched. A gentle tap on the shell will usually cause the clam to close. If a clam does not respond to a tap on its shell, or if the shell is broken, it should be discarded.
  • Plan to cook your steamers soon after they arrive.
  • To store clams in the shell, refrigerate (34-45 F) in a shallow bowl and cover with a clean damp cloth.
  • Allow 1 pound of steamers per person as an appetizer or 2 pounds per person as a main course.

Important: DO NOT suffocate clams by sealing them in a plastic bag or air-tight container. DO NOT put them directly on ice or let them sit in water.

Since steamers are raked from sand and mud flats, you will find some sand. A brine soak helps clams rid themselves of sand and grit before they’re cooked. Soak clams in a solution of 1/3 cup of salt in 1 gallon of water (just to cover) for about an hour in the refrigerator. Some cooks suggest adding a tablespoon of cornmeal to the salt mixture.

Steaming Clams

  1. Rinse shellfish under cold water and drain thoroughly before cooking.
  2. Add one to two inches of water or your favorite beer (this adds bite) in a large steamer or pot and add clams.
  3.  Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and cover tightly. Steam clams for 3 to 5 minutes, until their shells open. Remove each clam as its shell opens and serve immediately. Discard any clams that are not open.

Serving Steamers

Serve steamers in a bucket or large bowl with cups of drawn butter and broth on the side. Simply pull the clam out of the shell with your fingers, dip in both broth and then the butter. You’ll also need to pull off the dark membrane that covers the edible “neck” of the clam. Eating steamers is messy, so have lots of bread for soaking up broth, and paper napkins for your fingers.


    1. Yes, sometimes it is difficult to remove the black “sheath” that covers the siphon of the clam. Best to do it when cooked. Remove it by holding the cooked clam belly in one hand and gently pulling this sheath off with the other.

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