New England Style Fried Clams

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Hi, my name is Hank and I am addicted to fried clams… Face planting into a basket of fried clams is one of my earliest food memories. Crunchy batter, salty clams, that shellfishy meatiness that only a clam really has — oysters and mussels are too dainty — and just a little whiff of an “ick” factor. After all, you eat the whole clam: foot, belly and all. And who knows what clams eat, anyway?

Fried clams in appetizer bowls with forks and lemon.
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

I have this gauzy memory of being on the dock in Galilee, Rhode Island. It’s somewhere around 1975, and I am with my family. My sisters Laura and Lizz are minding me. They’ll correct me, but I think the ferry to Block Island was late that day, and we decided to eat something at one of the clam shacks that were right there.

This was probably that tipping point moment into my addiction, because I ate a lot of clams that day. A lot. So many I remember my sisters prodding my distended belly, half-joking that I might explode. Almost, but I didn’t.

Once on the Block, I ate more fried clams, as well as Block Island clam cakes, another of my favorites. I gorged myself on clams at almost every meal that year and every vacation since then all through my childhood. Funny, we rarely ate clams when we were back home in New Jersey, except for my mom’s “clam things,” which are stuffed clams.

Only when we were on vacation, or whenever we were in Massachusetts. The Bay State, I soon learned, was fried clams mecca. You see, mum’s from Ipswich — and Ipswich is in Essex, Massachusetts, the home not only of Woodman’s, but of several other legendary clam shacks (such as the Clam Box) that all vie for the title of Greatest Fried Clams on Earth. All have great clams.

Fried clams are an art. The fat must be very hot, or the clams will overcook before the batter is golden and crispy. To my mind, you must have the whole clam in there, too, belly and all. Yes, they serve them without the bellies, but that to me seems like eating a lobster pre-shelled.

No fun and certainly not part of the real experience. You want a little seasoning in the breading, but not much or it will overwhelm the clams. Lemon wedges are a must, and many reach for either tartar sauce — “tah-tah sahss,” as mum pronounces it — or ketchup. (My mom’s tartar sauce recipe is here.)

I like just lemon, then maybe a dash of hot sauce after I’ve eaten 20 or 30 clams.

A tray full of Western littleneck clams.
Photo by Hank Shaw

Virtually all fried clams in America are either Mya arenaria, the steamer clam, or Mercenaria mercenaria, the quahog, cherrystone or littleneck clam; the names are size grades, not different species. Alas, I live in California, where my beloved clams do not.

What to do? Well… we do have littlenecks here, only they are Leukoma staminea. Not the same, yes, but damn good. Manila clams are another excellent clam to fry like this.

I found myself near my Secret Clam Spot a few months back just at the right time.

Why not, I thought? So I went there, got my limit of 50 clams in short order, and headed back inland. What to do with them? The thought of New England fried clams kept popping up as I drove. But it was still cold out. Not the right weather. Not at all. Screw it. I made them anyway.

I was glad I did, These are about as close to real New England fried clams as you can get 3,000 miles away. And I should know. I’ve eaten a lot of them in the past 48 years…

Close up of fried clams in small bowls with lemon slices.
4.76 from 25 votes

Fried Clams, New England Style

This is a pretty basic recipe. The only part even remotely tricky is finding the "corn flour," which is not the same thing as corn starch! Corn flour is just finely ground corn meal. The easiest way to find some is in the "ethnic" aisle where you find Louisiana foods. It's called "fish fry," and if you look at the ingredients it's just corn flour. If you absolutely can't find any, just use more regular flour. It'll be fine.
Course: Appetizer, Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 1 pound shucked clams cherrystones, littlenecks, Western littlenecks or Manila clams
  • 1 cup corn flour, as in "fish fry" mix
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 cup buttermilk or evaporated milk
  • oil for frying

Instructions 

  • Pick through the clams to make sure there are no bits of shell or obvious grit. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Submerge the clams in buttermilk.
  • Preheat the oven to 200ºF and put a rack set over a baking sheet inside the oven. Heat enough oil to float the clams, about a quart or so. What oil? Anything you feel like, but I prefer peanut oil. You want the oil hot, about 360ºF.
  • When the oil is almost ready, coat a few clams in the breading. Don't do more than your fryer can handle in one batch, as you want the clams to go right from breading into the fryer. If you want super-extra crispy clams, dip the breaded clams back in the buttermilk and again in the breading; I think this is too much, but some people like them that way.
  • Fry the clams until they are golden brown, about 90 seconds to 2 minutes. Move them to the rack in the oven and repeat with the remaining clams -- make sure the oil gets back up to temperature between batches. Serve with homemade tartar sauce, malt vinegar, remoulade, ketchup or hot sauce.

Notes

Fried clams almost have to be eaten with lemon wedges, potato salad, other fried things, maybe a lobster roll, and either beer or, if you feel all fancy, some white wine, maybe even Champagne.

Nutrition

Calories: 290kcal | Carbohydrates: 57g | Protein: 8g | Fat: 3g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 12mg | Sodium: 750mg | Potassium: 114mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 254IU | Calcium: 80mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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101 Comments

  1. The Pacific Northwest has 11 different salt water clam species, including the mighty geoduck, and lots of steamer clams and razor clams. The razors are large, but with a fast/hot fry, hard to beat. I usually drop into egg white/milk mix then into crushed cracker crumbs. Refrig for 30 minutes, fry, gorge.

    1. Hi Hank, I in central maine and and also love clams,I have my clam license, for the best clams in ME. I’ve had it for 18 year,s I’m allowed 15 lbs.on a dig .I looked up receipes to try my other favorite, Oyster,s ,my friends from Rockey Neck in Kingston, know I will take a 100 ,when that come to central me.these oyster,s are from Duxsbery,so good,alot of farming taking place all along the NE coast.i also grew up in that area, Norwood,and spent alot of time , stripper fishing, with my grampa , sleeping in a Rambler , between the born and saga more, waiting for the right time,my grampa,had the stripper fishing record,in the canal,57 1/2 lbs .it was at the Red Top tackle and Bait.for years.getting back to clams , I m going to try your recipe , tomorrow,on the oyster,s

      1. Bruce, I grew up in East Providence and your post brought back fond memories of the area between the Bourne and the Sagamore. Cheers. Adam

    2. eating some fresh fried razors now. This recipe is good, but sub in some celery seed or celery salt to make it even better.

  2. If you’re ever in Hernando Beach Florida check out The Tropical Grille. I fly fresh clams in from Ipswich 3X a week and sell them at my tiki bar located directly on the Gulf of Mexico.

  3. Thanks Hank. Born in Boston and raised Boston to Cape Cod I am now in Florida in late life. In the fifties the fried clams onion rings outing was about the only eat out meal for the family. We were all crazy for it. I hope to find the right clams her in Florida.

    1. Kelly’s Landing. A real Massachusetts outpost on the southern edge of Fort Lauderdale. It’s the real thing.

    2. We live in The Villages Fl but are native RI/Ma so we know our seafood. There’s are great place about an hour from us in Pierson called Essex Seafood II, original in Essex , Ma. They get delivery from Me and it’s like being back home!! Cash only, and the food is fantastic!!! Scallops, whole belly clams and steamers are to die for, but they’ve got so much more also. We head out there whenever we need our NE seafood fix and the place is always full of people sporting their NE sports caps!

    1. Whole belly streamer clams are the only way to go. You can substitute other clams, but none have the same taste as a steamer clam. These days you can get shucked whole belly clams sent to you from Maine no matter where you live. I’m stuck in Virginia these days and at least once a year, for my birthday, I get Chipmans Wharf in Maine to ship me down a few pounds of shucked clams, fire up the deep fryer, and gorge myself.

  4. Living in Los Angeles for over 40 years. Clams are dear to my belly, and of course there are none to be found out here. Was a couple from Worcester that opened an authentic clam shack in Hermosa Beach in the early 80’s but got homesick after a couple of years. Been overnighting frozen clams from ipswich for many years. Expensive but about what a good clam plate would cost. Above recipe is perfect and with French fries and coleslaw, it’s as good as it gets.

    1. Agree on the recipe! I am two towns southwest of Worcester and I made this recipe a few months ago. It was dee-lish! I’m a huge shell fish fan and Hank has some awesome recipes…authentic and easy to make.

  5. Hi
    I’m an older guy who grew up in Rhode Island. My first experiences of Rhode Island seafood were at Rocky Point, an amusement park which served family-style meals at their Shore Dinner Hall. This was in the early sixties. My parents would bring us there once a year for a day in the park and then a meal. I can’t say how many people could be accommodated in the huge hall but it was prodigious.
    The classic shore dinner included Rhode Island chowder, clam cakes, steamers, fresh corn, and fried clams. As anyone from RI knows, RI chowder is a clear chowder, no tomato, no cream. Anyway, I’ve made chowder and clam cakes many times over the years and have never used hot sauce or Tabasco and I’ve never known anyone in my family or friends who have. Tartar sauce and lemon. That’s it. On the fried clams. You dip the clam cakes in the chowder. Period.

    1. Hi Dave. Southeastern CT here. Used to go quite often to the Point but always found Manhattan Clam Chowder at the large dining hall. Yech! Tomatoes have no business in a chowder bowl…. lol! Agree with you. Rhode Island clear broth is the best, New England comes in 2nd. And visits to George’s of Galilee always planned for clam fritters & Del’s.

    2. David! Your post brought back such memories. I grew up in East Providence and we would go to Rocky Point every year when school got out – your got free rides for every A on your report card, but the best part was the Shore Dinner Hall. Man I miss that place, and their clam cakes! It was a huge hall for sure. Sorry to see it go honestly.

    1. Steve: You’re probably right. They are computer generated, and not 100% accurate, but the Almighty Google wants them so I put them in.

  6. I say give them a good soak with white vinegar (after they’re fried), the juice of 1/4 squeezed lemon, and then serve them with spicy cocktail sauce, which is basically ketchup, chili sauce, horseradish, and up to 1 tsp of your favorite hot sauce (Frank’s, Tabasco, or my personal favorite, Scorned Woman). And whole bellies of course. Yeah, they can be a turn-off if not fried right, but when they are… there’s nothing better.

  7. Hank- I am in San Diego and have access to a couple good pismo clam spots and looking for recipes. Is This fried clam recipe an option? Any other recommendations? Thanks!

      1. Uummm.. Fried clams.. Uummm.. one of my favorite foods. Been eating them for almost 70 yrs. I live in Gloucester, Ma. , right in the heart of fried clam country. I frequent all the fried clam spots close by. Essex, Ipswich, Rockport, Gloucester, and many surrounding town. If you trip and fall you’ll find a wonderful fried clam spot. Hard to miss. We all have our favorites. Some minor differences but the clams are the key… I wouldn’t stray to far from this area though. I’ve been sorely disappointed heading into Maine , out to Montauk, Long Island and tried them in New Jersey where I grew up for the most part. Except In the summers and numerous trips to Gloucester/Rockport Island throughout the year visiting family. My great grandmother from Gloucester is considered the first fisherwomen in the country. With a number of other family members making a living on and around the ocean…
        So if you Are in the area make sure you indulge. Fried Clams are not to be missed. Oh and I am a real foodie…

  8. Hi my name is Al and I’m 83 yrs. old. When I visited my grandmother in Weymouth MA we used to pass by 7 EE’s restaurant for clams in Quincy MA. does anyone remember this place? The best place around for clams

    1. Hi Albert;
      I have you beat by a year and am 84. During the some of the years of the Second WW, my dad was the Executive Officer at the Hingham U.S. Navy Ammution Depot and we were living in Hingham, MA. Yes, I remember stopping with my family at 7 EE’s restaurant in Quincy for meals but I don’t remember what type of fish we had. That ended in February, 1944 when the navy transferred my dad and our family moved to Needham. Fried clams are still my favorite dish and, fortunately, we have a restaurant in Raleigh, NC that has fried whole belly clams on its menu.

      1. ya? well im 87 and have eaten fried clams everywhere :). Generally end up at J>T>Farnhams , Essex. The view and fried clams are great. No credit cards and cant speak for the rest of the fare.

    2. Oh, the 7-E’s! Used to stop there all the time on our way down to Nantasket. Load up of clams & onion rings and then the giant coaster or the round up at Paragon. Get nauseous thinking about it now, but 55 years ago it was great. I was just looking at how much
      Woodmans charges to ship clams out to Utah. Ouch! May have to go to the asian grocery and just break down and buy a couple of bags

    3. Yes, I grew up in Hingham (next town to Weymouth) and know exactly where seven ee’s was located. Been there many times. Love love fried clams(the kind in MA. In Maine too much puffy breading.

  9. Slight correction. Ipswich is a separate town from Essex though situated next to each other. They are both in Essex County.
    My favorite purveyor is the Clam Box in Ipswich. Sadly I’m now in Florida & even though we have many New Englanders who have re-located here & opened New England seafood places, none are like home.

    1. The family owners of the Clam Box go to Florida in the winter and cook there my mom told me. She was born in Ipswich in 1930…
      The place might be in Ft Lauderdale ?(see feed).

    1. Ellen: I’ve never seen them for sale, but we have good clams here in California. Look for Western littlenecks or cockles and they will be a good alternative.

  10. I used to work at the clam box. They use evaporated milk, then a mixture of 1/2 corn flour and 1/2 cake flour.

  11. I agree fried clams are amazing. But if you want them as good as Wodmans you need lard for oil. Go big or go home. My opinion, tartar sauce, ketchup should be banned.

    1. Do NOT let the oil get old. I worked at the clam box in Ipswich, MA as a kid and they would shut down regularly to change the oil.

  12. S.O.S. We don’t get fresh clams here in Louisiana however I was thinking that maybe I could get clams in the can and somehow fry those up. P.S. We’re from the Plymouth, MA area and miss our fried clams.

    1. Fran: Meh. I personally wouldn’t do fried clams with canned clams. Maybe just do this recipe with local Louisiana oysters?

      1. Can you use shucked cooked Steamers for this recipe and air fry them using this recipe?

      2. Rebecca: I’ve never air fried anything, so I don’t know. As for using pre-cooked clams, I suspect they will get very tough once you cook them a second time.

  13. I’m from MA & love love fried clams! Not a clam to be found here in KY. Do you think whole clams in a can would be a good New England fried clam?

  14. Is corn flour the same thing as Masa flour? Or should I use regular cornmeal — which sounds like it could be too heavy. Maybe a mix of cornmeal and flour?

    1. Lisa: Nope, it’s different. Corn flour in this case is what is often sold as “fish fry,” it’s very fine cornmeal. You can use fine cornmeal, which many places do. Just make sure it’s not coarse or it will be too heavy, as you mention. Definitely not masa.

    2. Masa is exceptional for all fried foods smooth like store bought flour but with more substance love to hear how your recipe with masa turned out!

  15. Dennis here in Haverhill Ma. If you order clam strips, you get no bellies. I am spoiled, 5 miles from Ipswich, best clams undisputed. Ordered clams on Cape Cod and asked for source, “Ipswich” !