Clam Shack Style Fried Clams

This clam shack style fried clams recipe tells you exactly how to make fried clams. Whole belly ones, natch, which are the best. And it’s so ridiculously easy.

An Ode to Fried Clams

I’ve made no secret of my absolute addiction to fried clams—especially clam shack style fried clams with big, luscious, profane whole 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.

A paper basket filled with golden fried clams

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. Originally published July 18, 2011. David Leite

Clam Shack Style Fried Clams

  • Quick Glance
  • (9)
  • 25 M
  • 25 M
  • Serves 4
5/5 - 9 reviews
Print RecipeBuy the The Summer Shack Cookbook cookbook

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Special Equipment: Deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer or an electric deep fryer, a Chinese wire-mesh skimmer or a pasta basket, a pair of tongs


  • For the New England style fry mix
  • For the clams


Make the New England style fry mix

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

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).

Heat 3 inches of oil to 375°F in a 4- to 5-quart Dutch oven over medium heat or in a deep fryer.

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.

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.

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.

Print RecipeBuy the The Summer Shack Cookbook cookbook

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    *What Is Corn Flour And Where Do I Find It?

    • Corn flour is essentially very finely milled cornmeal made from the entire kernel of corn—the germ, the bran, and the endosperm. Corn meal—whether coarsely ground, medium grind, or finely ground—is not an acceptable substitute due to the textural difference. However, masa harina, which you can find in the Latin section of most supermarkets, is a perfectly fine swap. A caution to our friends the Brits and Aussies and Canadians. We understand that in your corners of the world, “corn flour,” or rather “cornflour,” is synonymous with “cornstarch,” but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Cornstarch is ground from only the endosperm of the corn and makes a lousy coating for fried clams. Trust us.


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      1. We’re delighted that you loved them, Jessica! Thanks for taking the time to let us know.

    1. Hi there. I’m gluten free and also corn free. Do you have suggestions to make this corn free as well? Thanks!

      1. Cynthia, while I know people have had success using gluten-free flour in place of the all-purpose flour, eliminating the corn flour would completely change the texture, and it’s not something we recommend. If any of our readers have had success swapping another ingredient for the corn flour, we’d love to hear from you.

    2. Just made this the other night and followed this recipe. It came out delicious just like the New England shack stand. I found fresh steamer clams at the local market for 2.99/lb. Couldn’t pass up the deal. I didn’t have buttermilk but used evaporated milk instead.

      Hint: To make things easier when shucking the clam and removing the membrane…Quickly steam the clams for 2 minutes. Remove and dump in an ice cold bath. You will shuck and remove the membrane like a pro.

      1. Thanks, Mr. C! Great tip! We’re delighted that these turned out as authentic as you hoped. Thanks for taking the time to let us know.

    3. Hi, I am unable to get whole belly clams. I can get cherrystones and littlenecks. Which one is an acceptable substitution? Thanks!

    4. I grew up in NH, and worked in a seafood restaurant in high school. For fried clams, we first thoroughly coated the clams in all purpose flour (this step is key), then coated the clams in a thin milk/yolk batter, and then gave the clams a coating in “supreme breader” which is the corn flour in the above recipe. Deep fry the clams until light golden brown to golden brown (I prefer a little more crunch), then serve with tartar sauce. We didn’t season with anything other than a dash of salt after frying (seasoned breading is uncommon in coastal New England; it’s more of a southern US style), as the plain corn flour breading gives the clams a rich flavor, but doesn’t overpower the clam flavor either. Buttermilk can also be used as a batter, but its the freshness of the clams that really makes the dish.

      1. It’s a little different, Michael. Although fish fry batters can vary, most call for baking powder and/or cornstarch. We don’t recommend you use cornstarch here.

      2. Yes. Or you can just coat with flour, dip in batter, then re-coat with flour. the corn flour adds a little more richness, so it’s personal preference.

        1. It’s a little different, Joss, as we don’t use cornstarch or baking powder here, which is often used in fish batter.

    5. I fully realize this is a recipe for fresh raw clams. But if all we can get here are canned clams, could a person make this anyway and just cook them a tad less? I realize there would be no comparison to fresh but, my husband really likes clams, and we only have those canned ones.

      1. Diane, I gotta tell you, I’ve never tried it, as we can always get fresh. That’s my way of saying I can’t promise stellar results, but I see no harm in trying!

    6. Looking forward to making this recipe!! It calks for 1 1/2 lb clams. How many people would this serve as an appetizer and how many for a meal?

      1. John, this should serve 3 to 4 as part of a meal, or 5 to 6 if serving smaller appetizer portions. Let us know how it turns out!

    7. AWESOME RECIPE! We made this tonight using thawed Clams and Mussels. We made two changes to the recipe as it was posted, we added some hot sauce to the buttermilk and quite a bit more pepper as we wanted a little more heat…It was perfect! We used a fondue pot as that was all we had so did this in small batches, we allowed the clams and the mussels to cool on a paper bag. When we were ready to have dinner, we heated on convection at the recommend temperature in the recipe of 250… Just delicious!

    8. This is the way to fry clams. I live in Mexico and this recipe is perfect for our clams. I buy mine at the fish market and I too love that fresh sea smell every time I open the container of fresh shucked clams. Muchas Gracias!

    9. Loved the article. I grew up on Cape Cod and now live in Maine and love fried clams. Make them at home but use evaporated milk instead of buttermilk.

    10. Excellent recipe. I’m in Fort Worth TX. An incredible grocery store here is Central Market. They will often carry the Ipswich clams as well as New Bedford scallops. I grew up outside of New Bedford. Their seafood is incredible. It comes in fresh every Friday.

    11. This recipe is outstanding all the ingredients and the cooking is right on. Anyone reading this: just follow the directions, and you’ll have the best fried clams–better than any restaurant in New England I buy my clams from Diggers there pricey but well worth it.

      1. I just made a batch the only addition was Frank’shot sauce in the butterrmilk. I also just dug the clams Saturday. They were excellent but my buddy thought they were missing something. I thought they were better then any restaurant even here at the cape

    12. As a born and bred Masshole, I thoroughly enjoyed this article but please…Cayenne pepper??

      This might be something people are liking more and more of today but this ingredient has never been part of any ORIGINAL New England fried clam mixture that I grew up chowing down on…and I’ve been chowing down on whole-bellied fried clams for more than 65 years. In fact, my bloodstream is probably made up of at least 1/3rd ocean water by now. :)

      It’s all about sinking your teeth into a tender juicy clam that’s been presented to your taste buds via a simple golden-fried flavorful coating and NOT about any peppery “heat” or “bite” that could overpower the ‘salty sweet ocean air’ taste.

      The ONLY hot clam you should be eating is the one that comes right out of the fryer onto your plate!

      Don’t believe me? Just ask any seagull that’s stolen your clam while you waved your hand around, making a conversational “point”. They’ll agree: less spice, more clam! Lol.

    13. To get the skin off the clam try removing half the shell and with a sharp knife split the neck and then remove the clam from the remaining shell. For me it speeds things up.

    14. If you’re in the Pawleys Island (south of Myrtle Beach SC), visit Captain John’s in Litchfield area of Pawleys Island.Their signature dishes are Ipswich whole belly fried clams & New England Haddock & New Bedford Scallops.

    15. Just finished cooking my clams freshly picked from Oyster Bay. Its tastes so good! Thanks for the recipe.

    16. 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.

      1. 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.

    17. 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.

      1. 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.

    18. 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.

      Bob Lafleur
      Macray’s Seafood II

        1. 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.

    19. I dream of Mcrays… 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….

      1. 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.

      1. 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.

    20. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. Well, six-year-olds have their own charm–but seals and trees can’t compete with their overt enthusiasm,. The masa-flour coating was superb.

    21. 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?

      1. 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.

    22. 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.

    23. 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

    24. 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?

      1. 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.


        1. 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.

          1. 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.

            1. 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!


              1. 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.

          2. With half the shell off split the foreskin and then remove the clam from the remaining shell. You will find this will help.

      2. I read that you dip the clams briefly into water at 180 degrees then open like an oyster and the skin come off the necks….i am trying them this way tonight….good luck! ….Note: I also read it is best to give them a bath in salt water (1 or 2 tablespoons per gallon of cold water) so they can Purge out any sand. Do this 3 or 4 times every four hours, so buy the them the day before you want to eat them.

        1. David, so putting them in the 180 degree water worked perfectly, I only left them in for 30 seconds or so….and the skin came off the necks really easy and it did not cook the clams too much. It was labor intensive shucking the clams, but it was worth every second i spent doing it and the end product was “Fried Clams Nirvana”! PS: I used your recipe for the New England fry batter as well as your homemade Tartar Sauce, they were incredibly delish and are the recipes I will use from this day forth.

    25. 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.

      1. 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!

        1. 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.

          1. 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.

    26. 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.

      1. 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.

      2. 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!

    27. 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.

      1. 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.

      2. My sister is lactose intolerant also. If you watch this, Lilian’s version from Bob’s Clam Shack is no dairy. Really, I have been cooking these for years and they don’t need dairy. But I have to use it, but not necessary.

    28. 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!

      1. 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.

          1. 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!

            1. 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.

          2. My dad had a diner in Berlin, NH, and he served Ipswich whole-belly clams everyday. When I had to go to the diner after school to wait for dad, I would go immediately to the fridge and get the gallon of clams out, bring them to the breader drawer and make a huge plate of clams while I did my homework. Ah, what memories :-)

            What’s the trick to shucking the steamers so I can fry some clams. I’ve shuck many an oyster in my days but one person I read said it was really hard to shuck the steamer clams. Any suggestions?

            1. Paul, what I wouldn’t have done to have been in your shoes as a kid! As far a how to shuck steamers, that’s a hard one. I’ve never done it, instead relying on pre-shucked clams. I did find this pretty compelling video, though.

    29. 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.

    30. 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!!!!

    31. 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….

    32. 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.


    33. 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?

          1. David

            We are from Boston and we love quality fried seafood. We just purchased a deep fryer and are going to try deep frying clams. We were wondering if this recipe can also be used on sea scallops or haddock?

            1. Angelo, I think so, but I have never tried it with haddock or scallops. If you like batter-covered fish, like fish & chips, it’s not this. Please let me know how it turns out!

          1. Hi Mary, sure you can…but you’ll get a very different texture. Corn meal is grainier and might no stick on as well. Corn flour, is similar in texture to wheat flour.

    34. 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.

    35. 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…

      1. Love, love clam bellies. Hard to find in Jacksonville, FL. But now, looks like I will
        avail myself of Diggers Seafood in Mass., and fry some up myself! Thanks for the

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