Clam Shack-Style Fried Clams

Clam Shack-Style Fried Clams Recipe

I’ve made no secret of my absolute addiction to fried clams—especially fried clams with big, luscious, profane bellies. I remember going as a kid to Macray’s, a local clam shack in Westport, MA., several Sundays during the summer. There my parents, grandparents, godparents, cousins, and I dove into pints of deep-fried oceanic goodness. My only regret as I tapped the last bits of crumbs from the greasy red-striped box into my mouth was that we couldn’t make them at home; it’s near impossible to shuck steamer clams. (Trust me, I’ve tried.) That little snag meant this treat would be relegated to the hot, steamy days of a New England summer.

Even after I wrote my paean to the almighty mollusk, I still was stymied: I couldn’t find a source for shucked big-bellied clams. But recently I stumbled upon Digger’s Seafood. It offers all kinds of fresh, never-frozen seafood, including my beloved shucked whole-belly clams. [Ed. Note: Digger’s no longer sells clams to the public. But we did find Lobsters.com, which one of our readers recommend.]

Skeptical, I ordered a one-pound packet that was delivered to my door within 24 hours. What makes Digger’s clams so special is they’re professionally shucked (the emergency-room savings alone is worth the steep price) and shipped to order. When I cracked opened the container, it smelled like a sweet, salty sea breeze. It took all I had not to eat the clams in all their raw, slippery glory.

But, of course, the proof is in the fryer. And these delivered. Mightily. With my near-forty-year search over, I am now able to have fried clams year round, miles from the nearest boardwalk but only a cast-iron pot away from my childhood.–David Leite

LC Tempt Ye Not Note

When I made this recipe, adapted from the great Jasper White, I was tempted to doctor up the coating mix with all kinds of herbs and spices. (Yes, for a moment I thought of myself as the Colonel  Sanders of Seafood.) “The secret to fried clams,” says Chickie Aggelakis, owner of The Clam Box in Ipswich, Mass., “is the flavor of the clams.” The coating and its crunch protect the tender belly meat. Mucking it up with spices—which is hard to resist—should be avoided at all costs.

  • 1. Prepare the fry mix and the clams. Only Ipswich clams with big bellies will do.
  • 2. Drain the claims to get rid of their liquor. That way the buttermilk will coat them better.
  • 3. Steep the clams in buttermilk. It helps the fry mix stick better.
  • 4. Slip the coated clams into 375° oil. But be careful—the oil will rise quickly.
  • 5. Once the cams are in, don't touch them for 20 seconds. Then gently separate them.
  • 6. After 1 to 1 1/2 minutes the clams will be golden brown Quickly scoop them out of the oil.
  • 7. Drain the clams on paper bags. Paper towels steams fried foods.
  • 8. It took Herculean strength not to dig in. The same can't be said for our cat Rory.

Special Equipment: deep-frying thermometer or an electric deep fryer, a Chinese wire-mesh skimmer or a pasta basket, a pair of tongs

Clam Shack-Style Fried Clams Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 25 M
  • Serves 4

Ingredients

  • For the new england-style fry mix
  • 1 cup corn flour (or masa harina)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • For the clams
  • 1 1/2 pounds of shucked whole-belly steamer clams
  • About 6 cups peanut, canola, or other vegetable oil, for deep-frying
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • New England-Style Fry Mix (above)

Directions

  • Make the new england style fry mix
  • 1. Combine the flours, salt, and both peppers in a large mixing bowl and mix well. You’ll have more than you need for this recipe, so whatever is left over you can store in an airtight glass container in the refrigerator for several weeks or more.
  • Fry the clams
  • 2. In many cases, you will be frying in batches to avoid the problems that can happen if you overcrowd your fryer. In anticipation of this, line a baking sheet with paper towels and preheat the oven to 250ºF (121°C).
  • 3. Heat 3 inches of oil to 375°F in a 4- to 5-quart Dutch oven over medium heat or in a deep fryer.
  • 4. While the oil is heating, pour the buttermilk into a large bowl, and put the fry mix in another. Drop the clams into the buttermilk and stir gently. Using a Chinese wire-mesh skimmer or a slotted spoon, carefully lift up a small batch (in this case, about half of the clams you’re frying), allowing the excess buttermilk to drip back into bowl, then drop the clams into the fry mix and gently toss it to coat evenly with the mix. Quickly dry off the skimmer.
  • 5. When the oil is hot, lift the food out of the fry mix with the skimmer, gently shake off the excess, and drop it carefully into the oil. Try to spread the food out in the pot so there is less chance of the pieces sticking to each other. The first few moments are crucial: let the seafood cook for 15 to 20 seconds without moving the clams (or the fryer basket)—if you do, some of the breading could fall off, making the dish greasy. Then stir the clams so that they cook evenly, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes more. This also helps to loosen any pieces that might have stuck together. If anything sticks to the bottom of the pot, loosen it with tongs. Stay right there at the fryer, moving the seafood occasionally so it cooks evenly.
  • 6. Transfer the first batch of clams from the hot oil to the paper towel–lined baking sheet to drain. You can keep the clams warm in the oven while you fry the second batch, but with clams or oysters, you should consider serving them as soon as they have drained. Because they are whole creatures with wet innards, they tend to lose their crunch faster than shrimp, scallops, and other seafood. Set the food on a plate or platter and send it to the table with lemon wedges and parsley sprigs–and fries aren’t out of the question. [Ed. note: A side of salad, as in the picture, is hardly traditional, but it makes for a pretty plate, right?] A nice casual, and very appropriate, touch when serving fried foods is to serve it on deli paper or butcher’s paper. We serve most of our fried foods on colorful deli paper printed with our logo—the paper isn’t really intended to soak up excess oil, it’s more to show off how greasy it isn’t.
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Comments
Comments
  1. Ling Teo says:

    I am weeping quietly into my keyboard as I think of the clam bellies and strips the hubby and I wolfed down at the Clam Box at Ipswich four summers ago. I live in the Netherlands now, and while a lot of things get deep-fried here, I’m not going to be able to find/make these anytime soon…

  2. Brian says:

    Stopping at Macrays on the way home from Lincoln park. Was just talking about the fried clam places with my dad last weekend, now i’m really getting the urge for some, thanks alot, lol.

  3. Greg says:

    How about “digging up” a really fabulous clam cake recipe?

  4. John says:

    I have never made them, but I saw on TV (Food Fueds or Food Wars?), both places used condensed milk instead of buttermilk. Anyone ever try this?

  5. Greg says:

    At the end of “the street where everyone knew my name”….(only because I used to do things I shouldn’t have…) there used to be this place called “Howie’s Fish Hut,” which had the most fabulous clam cakes deep-fried to a perfect golden brown color with big chunks of sea-kissed clams…..ohhhh. They are a guilty pleasure of mine and my husband’s….yes….we LOVE them.

    I have made them in the past but since I find everthing I create via your recipes so wonderful, I thought you might have a recipe up your sleeve.

    Anyone???

    • David Leite says:

      Because they are so special to you, and you, my dear old friend, are so special to me, let me see what I can rustle up.

  6. hemp says:

    There is a New England-style clam shack coming to the shores of the Gowanus Canal, complete with whole bellied fried Ipswitch clam rolls lobster rolls a full raw bar burgers and ice cold beer….

  7. Pat in NC says:

    Two weeks ago I finally had my first clamboil of the season. My family was in Mass and brought home 5 quarts of clams. Had I had this recipe (which by the way makes my mouth drowl), I would have made at least half as fried clams. Your article reminded me of how much I do miss the Mccray’s and Evelyn’s (in Tiverton, RI) fried clams. It’s time to hunt down the Digger’s Seafood website. Thanks David!!!!

    • David Leite says:

      Pat, so glad this reminded you of home. And when you do make those delicious clams, you let me know.

  8. Louise says:

    Hi Chef David,

    I just found your site. I came over from the Homesick Texan. I used to go to Macray’s every Sunday for years. Even when it rained, I was there. My mom had cravings for clams while pregnant for me. I guess that’s where I got my love for clams. I look forward to reading all your posts.

  9. Nancy Morizio says:

    Unfortunately, Digger’s Seafood no longer ships.

    • Peter says:

      But this Gilmore’s Seafoods does!

      • David Leite says:

        Thanks, Peter. I haven’t tried their clams, so I can’t recommend them to our readers, but I’ll certainly order some.

        • Peter says:

          I haven’t either, but Gilmore’s looks like they’re doing it right. Shipping is insane though. Don’t know if I need a $75.00 plate of fried clams!

          • David Leite says:

            Peter, shipping for fresh seafood is, indeed, expensive. Diggers was about the same. But I have to say, that was the best plate of fried I had–outside of The Clam Box in Ipswich.

  10. John says:

    Love whole-belly clams. Like you I have been looking for big-bellied clams to fry. I can’t locate Digger’s Seafood on the web. Any advice on how to reach them to order the clams would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • David Leite says:

      I don’t think you can reach them anymore. But if you look up four comments, you’ll see that one of our readers, Peter, found Gilmore’s. I can’t vouch for them yet (I have to get my hands on their clams), but their products looks good. Maine clams are what the Ipswich folks use when the Massachusetts’s clam flats are closed. So if it’s good enough for them, it should be good enough for us.

  11. Chris says:

    The recipe looks delicious but I could never eat it as written. What’s the best way to adapt it for the lactose intolerant? Is the buttermilk soak absolutely necessary? Thanks.

    • David Leite says:

      Chris, not a problem. You can substitute clam juice for the buttermilk. The trick is to make sure they’re wet enough to get the coating to stick well. You can even try any lactose-free milk. Please let us know how it turns out so our other lactose-intolerant readers can enjoy, too.

  12. Joe O'Donnell says:

    Hear me o Isreal, this, this is the recipe of which I speak….bless you.

  13. Jodi Emery says:

    When I was a child, every summer my father would take me to Evelyn’s on Ashley Blvd. in New Bedford, MA. Best belly clams I have had. Until my husband took me to Gino’s in Fairhaven, MA. OMG!! I’m gonna try to make them at home wish me luck.

    • David Leite says:

      Hi, Jodi. Gosh, I haven’t thought of Evelyn’s in a long timeI enjoyed the clams at Evelyn’s, they just weren’t selling big bellies when we were there. I wish you the very best of luck with your clam plan. Please let me know how it turns out.

    • lynn says:

      Jodi, it is actually GENE’S in Fairhaven that you mentioned. My husband and I have been going there for years and years. The seafood is great, and the clams are wonderful!

      • David Leite says:

        lynn, I’ve never tried it, but I’ll have to give it a whirl when I’m up there next year.

  14. Heidi Chapman says:

    Would you recommend your whole clam recipe for onion rings?

  15. Roger Pavitt says:

    Just returned from Gloucester, MA. Purchased frozen bellies at a small fish market (Intershell, 978-281-2623) and made them this evening. When in that area you can try Essex Seafood, great little place. As always, the line was out the door at the Clam Box in Ipswich. Also ate at Olivia’s near Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester twice this trip, Amanda and Janice are great servers. Seaport Grille and Windward Grille are just a couple more great spots to dine.

    • David Leite says:

      Hey Roger. Thanks for the update. Did the frozen belly clams work well? I’ve tried all of the places in that area. Actually I followed the fried clam trail from Connecticut to Maine. After eating at almost 20 places, I still wanted more fried clams!

      • Roger Pavitt says:

        David, I read your article in the NY Times in 07. Didn’t realize you were the author when I replied on Aug,22. The frozen bellies ($12.95 per lb.) worked well but I need a new (larger) fryer. Olivia’s was Amelia’s last year, but my wife, son, and I were in Gloucester for a long Memorial Day weekend and discovered the change in ownership. We try to visit the area a few times a year. Thanks for the recipe.

        • David Leite says:

          Roger, not a problem. I’m glad to know the frozen big-belly clams worked. Hopefully, it will help others who are desperate to have some. And I have some sad news: The One and I went to Maine and because of traffic and schedules, we didn’t make it anywhere near Ipswich. That means it’ll be a whole year before I have fried clams again from the motherlode.

  16. Bill says:

    displaced newenglander here. soon as i get off the plane in boson from north carolina i rush to get fried clams. Being a bit of a cook im atempting to make my own at home. one of the local grocers sells steamers, i usually just steam them but it kills me knowing if i could just shuck the littel beggers i could enjoy them fried. I found this site while searching for how to schuk steamers after having tried and failed on a reliable method on my own.

    Someone must know a trick on how to do it. They sell them shucked so how do they get that way? i doubt a machine does it. If they did it my way, the labor cost would be prohibitive. What is the secreat i wonder?

    • David Leite says:

      Hi, Bill. I know that all the major shacks buy them freshly shucked. I did find this video on YouTube. It seems pretty much straightforward, but I think you’d need some practice to avoid cutting into the clam. I hope this helps.

      .

      • Bill says:

        thanks for the video dave, maybe i wasnt clear on my deliema. I can open clams at a fairly speedy rate. my issue is cleaning the “foreskin?” off them. Once steamed they come right off but raw they are very teidous to remove. it would probably take me and hour to do a quart of steamers. i can only imagine how long it would take to fill up a gallon of shucked, cleaned steamers.

        • David Leite says:

          Ah, I see, Bill. That’s a mystery to me, too. I know that at the Sea Swirl, they cut off most of the siphon. Perhaps by doing that you can then tug at the rest of the covering to pull it off.

          I’m still looking into this, as it’s something that has perplexed me, too.

          • Bill says:

            I guess its comforting to know here are still some culinary mysteries out there! I also have contemplated cutting off the siphon and chaulking up the loss of meat to expediency. This may in fact be the way they do it commercially. for the life of me and after having consumed copious amounts of fried clams, I cant remember if the siphon is still attached to a fried clam. I will have to pay more attention next time i get off the plane. Thanks for your input.

            Happy new year!

            Bill

            • David Leite says:

              Yes, some mysteries do remain. I know the clams I got via mail order (the company has since closed) had intact siphons. I wonder if they dip the tips in scalding water to loosen them.

              Anyway, Hapy New Year to you and yours and may we solve the mystery in 2013.

  17. David says:

    Years ago I owned a clam shack in Maine. Made great onion rings using egg wash then faulds clam fry mix. They were great I doubled down and dipped twice. Living in Virginia now and cannot find faulds clam fry mix anywhere are you familiar with this product? Any suggestions? Thank you

  18. Joanne says:

    I bought shucked clams at the Lobster Barn in Abington, yesterday. I brought them back to Tulsa and will cook them tonight. Nothing like a fried whole clam with a big belly.

  19. charlie says:

    Displaced new englander here in wisconsin— we tried to get steamers at the local store that was selling clams. they could get little necks for us, but can’t get steamers–they said they wouldn’t make the trip. anyway, can we substitute littlenecks for the steamers?

    • David Leite says:

      charlie, unfortunately, you can’t. Littlenecks can be rubbery and they don’t have that incredible steamer taste. Some people have done it, but if you’re a real New England fried clam fan, I think you’d be quite disappointed.

  20. john fortune says:

    grew up in N.H. left 40yrs back, still think about the clam with dem bellies.

  21. Karen says:

    We live in the NW, and dig butter clams in Alaska every summer, bringing them home shucked and frozen. My favorite fish batter is similar to yours: dip in yogurt, then crumbs + cornmeal. Will try your masa plus flour tonight. I know people say our clams are not as good as your clams, but how wonderful to be able to dig them by the bucketful in a remote bay with just seals and mink and trees for company.

    • David Leite says:

      Oh, Karen, there is something magical about digging for clams on a warm day. I can only image what it’s like with seals and trees for company! I usually had pushy and very vocal six-year-olds. And I think your clams are wonderful. The only difference is Ipswich clams come from mud flats, so the taste is different–perfect to stand up to the fried batter.

  22. Jennifer says:

    The fried clams sound delicious – we are usually more into oysters in North Carolina! It seems diggerschoice.com is selling clams again. Would you suggest the frying clams or the authentic new england fried clam kit. The frying clams are not specified as whole belly Ipswich Style.

    • David Leite says:

      The frying clams have bellies, but the kit clams seem to have larger bellies. That being said, I can’t justify you spending more money based upon a photo. I would call and order the frying clams, and ask them if the bellies are large? Or can then pull the biggest bellied clams they have.

  23. Liz says:

    I dream of Mcrays…..my fav restaurant that is no more. Memories of sitting in the car enjoying a red box full of yummy. After a day at Lincoln Park. Or Horseneck. Or during a really great date….sigh…sob….

    • David Leite says:

      Yes, Liz. It’s sad that it’s gone. And so, too, are the days of Lincoln Park. It’s amazing how little moments like these become so important the older you get.

  24. Paul says:

    MacRay’s has re-opened in Tiverton, RI on Rte 81. It is the original recipe, and is co-owned by one of the kids who used to work at the original shack during the 60s, 70s and 80s.

    • David Leite says:

      Hey Paul, it looks like this is the second time they have reopened it. I visited the re-opened restaurant in 1996/7, and something was missing for me.

      • Paul says:

        That’s true. And I believe the same original flavor is there, but the clams (or crust) should be a bit more crunchier and darker. But they’re quite good still. Try them again if you’re still in the area.

        • David Leite says:

          Paul, when I make my annual trek to Ipswich, MA, I’ll stop by again and try them. Thanks for the head’s up.

  25. Bob Lfleur says:

    Hi David, I was just reading your article and remembered the time you visited me at Macray’s in Tiverton. It would be great to see you again, so please stop in when you have a chance it, would be nice to se you again.

    Sincerely,
    Bob Lafleur
    Macray’s Seafood II

  26. Steve Langlais says:

    56 years ago I got hooked on RI clams. Living in Indiana, I had 12 months between meals. (My dad was from RI and every vacation was taken there.) What temp do you use and how long do you fry the little critters? Also, does the pepper Raise the heat? I don’t remember my clams being spicy. Most of the time we ate at the Cowesett Inn in West Warwick, RI.

    • David Leite David Leite says:

      Hey, Steve. The clams are fried at 375°. (It was stated in the slideshow, but I added it to the recipe, too.) Cook them for 1 to 2 minutes total. And, no, the peppers don’t make them spicy. They add just a little pleasant heat. You can omit the cayenne, but don’t leave out the black pepper.

  27. Risa Irrera says:

    As a kid, I grew up in Salisbury Beach, Mass. Used to love the fried ipswich clams. Do you know if the above recipe is comparable to the one of yesteryear? It would have been in the early ’60s.

    • David Leite David Leite says:

      Hi Risa, I grew on the South Coast and love fried Ipswich clams. These are probably the closest I’ve had–but there is something about sitting at the Clam Box, hunched over a box of friend marvelousness.

      If you do try to make these, use only Ipswich clams with big bellies. Any other clam doesn’t have the same flavor because Ipswich clams are dug up from mud flats.

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