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.

Four various photos of fried clams served in different restaurants.

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. 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

That is until I learned to shuck steamer clams at home. It’s a simple process of dipping the clams in boiling water for several seconds, which helps pop the shells but doesn’t cook the meat. The clams are then dumped into cold water. Then it’s a matter of taking a knife and releasing the clam from its shell.

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.–David Leite

Clam Shack-Style Fried Clams

Clam Shack Style Fried Clams FAQs

Can you use canned clams to make fried clams?

Alas, no. Canned clams are fully cooked and therefore would fall apart. Plus, they’re tiny. You want large steamers for fried clams.

Can you use littlenecks or cherrystones to make fried clams?

Again, no. Littlenecks and cherrystones are different types of clams. They’re chewier and don’t have the same texture and taste as steamers

What other names do steamer clams go by?

Steamer clams are also called soft-shell clams, Ipswich clams, and Maine clams.

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.

Clam Shack Style Fried Clams

Four various photos of fried clams served in different restaurants.
This clam shack-style fried clams recipe tells you exactly how to make fried clams. Whole belly ones, which of course are the best. So easy.

Prep 5 mins
Cook 20 mins
Total 25 mins
Mains
New England
4 servings
448 kcal
4.90 / 19 votes
Print RecipeBuy the The Summer Shack Cookbook cookbook

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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

Ingredients 

For the New England style fry mix

  • 1 cup corn flour (not cornmeal; see FAQ above)
  • 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 (either low-fat or full-fat)
  • New England-Style Fry Mix (above)

Directions
 

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.
    Freshly shucked Ipswich clams and the fry mix

Fry the clams

  • In many cases, you'll 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 a clean brown paper bag, 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.
    Clams steeping in buttermilk
  • Drop the clams into the fry mix and gently toss them to coat evenly with the mix. Quickly dry off the skimmer.
  • When the oil reaches temperature, lift the clams out of the fry mix with the skimmer, gently shake off the excess, and slip them carefully into the oil.
    Fried clams being lowered in the oil
  • Try to spread the food out in the pot so there is less chance of the pieces sticking to each other.

    TESTER TIP: 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.

  • 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.
    Fried clams in oil
  • Transfer the clams from the hot oil to the paper-bag-lined baking sheet to drain. You can keep the clams warm in the oven while you fry the second batch.
    Fried clams draining
  • Transfer the clams to a platter with lemon wedges and parsley sprigs–and fries aren't out of the question.
Print RecipeBuy the The Summer Shack Cookbook cookbook

Want it? Click it.

Show Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 448kcal (22%)Carbohydrates: 35g (12%)Protein: 10g (20%)Fat: 30g (46%)Saturated Fat: 6g (38%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 9gMonounsaturated Fat: 13gTrans Fat: 0.01gCholesterol: 14mg (5%)Sodium: 660mg (29%)Potassium: 158mg (5%)Fiber: 2g (8%)Sugar: 3g (3%)Vitamin A: 229IU (5%)Vitamin C: 0.1mgCalcium: 98mg (10%)Iron: 2mg (11%)

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Originally published July 17, 2016

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Comments

  1. 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. 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.

    2. 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. 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. 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. Steamer clams are easier to open if you put them on ice they fall asleep and relax

          2. 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.

        2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!!!!

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