The clam bake or steamed clams, also known as a New England Clambake is a traditional method of cooking seafood by steaming the ingredients over layers of seaweed. This traditional New England Clam Boil is made accessible with an easy swap to cooking over an open flame. This hearty and festive summer meal can be scaled to feed one, two, or more than a few!
New England summers are not complete without at least one Clam Bake or clam boil. In Southeastern Massachusetts and northern Rhode Island, a Portuguese clam boil veers from tradition to include the addition of Portuguese mild and spicy sausages similar.
A traditional clam bake is an informal beachfront meal where clams, corn-on-the-cob, and other foods like lobsters, crab, mussels, potatoes, and onions are cooked in a pit of hot rocks and covered with seaweed and wet canvas to “bake” in the sand.
Clam bakes can easily be replicated indoors or backyards by simply steaming the ingredients in a large pot over an open flame or electric burner; seaweed optional.
Steaming the seafood is a method whereby food is placed on a rack or steamer basket over boiling or simmering water in a covered pot. Steaming does a better job than boiling or poaching to retain the food’s flavor, shape, texture and many of the nutrients.
What Type of Clams is Best for a Clam Boil?
- Steamer Clams – Small Atlantic coast clams with soft, brittle shells. Also called soft-shell clams, these clams do not close entirely due to the long, rubbery neck extending from the body. Steamers are the smallest of all Atlantic soft-shell varieties. As their name indicates, they are delicious steamed but are also suitable for frying.
- Cherrystone Clams – Medium-sized Atlantic Coast coast hard-shelled clams. Cherrystone clams are a small quahog but larger than a littleneck (steamer) clam. These clams are good raw, steamed, or baked.
- Razor Clams – these are the most famous Pacific coast soft shell clam. These clams are best when steamed. They get their name from the fact that they look like an old-fashioned fold up razor. These would not be typical in a New England clam boil but would be perfect for a west coast clam boil or clam bake.
What is the serving size? How many Clams per person?
A serving of steamed clams is 3 oz, which is about 12 small clams.
Steamer clams are sold live in the shell. A quart typically weighs one and a quarter to one and a half pounds. There are about 13-18 steamer clams per quart.
In other areas, steamer clams are sold by the pound. Each pound contains 8-12 clams.
As a general rule of thumb, for the main meal, we order about one pound or one quart per person depending on how they are sold. We usually add on an additional 1 pound (or quart) for those quests with larger appetites and for the hopes of some leftovers.
How to Clean Clams.
- Steamer clams have brittle shells, so check clams the clams for those with severely damaged shells. If the clam appears dead (See Step 6), toss it into the trash.
- Place clams in a large bowl or pot then cover with cold water (you’ll want the water level a few inches above the top of the clams).
- Gently toss the clams in the water to get rid of any loose grit and fill with a fresh batch of water.
- Rinse and repeat again until the water appears clean.
- Refill one last time and add approximately 2/3 cup of salt per 2 quarts (8 cups) water. Mix the water and clams with your hands to distribute salt. Add a tablespoon of ground black pepper. This is believed to encourage the clams to dispell of excess sand from their stomachs. Drain the water and rinse before adding to the cooking pot.
- Softshell clams do not close all the way due to their large necks. Open clams should respond when you touch the neck. If the clam does not slowly respond by retracting the neck, throw it out. It is likely dead.
Steamed Clams Ingredients and Special Tools Needed.
Items included in a clam boil generally vary between families. This is based largely on the type of seafood you like to eat.
In some recipes, you may find hot dogs (for the kids), while others use whole fish, and still, others include fresh crab. In our family, we add hot dogs and both types of spicy and mild Portuguese sausages that are common around the Southern Coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
- Hot dogs – we usually include these for the kids who do not like the smoked sausages.
- Sausage – Linguica, chourico, Andouille, or smoked sausage.
- Fish Fillets – We use fresh cod or Haddock fillets
- Crab – whole crab or crab legs would be fine.
- Potatoes – We use Russet potatoes that have been halved or quartered
- Corn – Fresh or frozen both are fine.
- Clams – we use only steamer clams but cherrystone would also work well steamed. See also What Type of Clams is Best for a Clam Boil.
- Melted Butter – use only unsalted butter.
- Clam broth – use the collected liquid after cooking to keep shucked clams hot.
- Aluminum Stockpot with Boil Basket – this is an excellent pot and is multipurpose. We use this pot when we are feeding a crowd of over 8 people. I put a metal colander in the bottom of the pot to keep everything up and out of the water.
Clam Steam Pot with Faucet -This is the pot I typically use for a family-sized clam boil, up to 8 people).
8-Qt Stockpot with lid – For smaller boils (for two people), I use an 8-qt stockpot with a lid. I place a small folding steamer basket in the bottom of the pot to keep everything out of the water.
How to Steam Clams.
- Add enough liquid to cover the bottom of a deep pan or stockpot completely but not up through the colander or steamer basket; heat on medium-high heat. To flavor the meal, you can use water, lemons, white wine, or beer.
- Layer the ingredients into the pot with those requiring the longest cooking time on the bottom and those requiring the shortest on top. We then place a large, peeled, whole onion on the top of the center of the pot and then cover the entire pot with a lid.
- When the onion is cooked through, the entire pot is ready to be served. Cooking time depends on the amount of food layered inside and the type of pot being used.
Clam Boil FAQ.
How do I store Clams before use?
Store fresh clams in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. They will be sold cold and alive.
How do I store leftover steamed clams?
Leftover cooked clams can be stored in a 40 degree F refrigerator for up to 2 days. Store them in some reserved cooking liquid for best results.
Can I freeze whole clams?
Yes. Whole fresh clams can be frozen in their shells by simply freezing them in water. We do this by placing them in a zip top bag on a baking tray and then adding water. Zip the top and then lay the bag flat. Clams can be frozen this way for up to 6 months.
How Do I reheat leftover clams?
Leftover clams are best reheated by first heating some reserved cooking stock and then quickly adding the clams for just a few seconds to reheat them. Overheating them will cause them to turn rubbery.
How can I repurpose leftover clams?
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New England Steamed Clams
- 1 pounds Russet Potatoes , cleaned and quartered
- 4 Ears Fresh Corn , husked and cleaned of silks
- 6 pounds Steamer Clams
- 4 Hot Dogs , optional
- 1 pound Smoked Chorizo Sausage or Portuguese Linguica , cut crosswise into 2 inch pieces
- 4 Cod Fillets
- 1 qt Water
- Melted Butter unsalted
- lemon wedges
- Your favorite hot sauce
- Old Bay seasoning , optional
- Into the bottom of a large 5-gallon pot equipped with a steam rack or the bottom of a large lobster steam pot, add 1 quart of water.
- On top of the steamer rack or into the top half of the lobster pot, place cleaned and quartered potatoes, in the bottom of the pot. Next top the potatoes with the ears of corn. Top this with steamer clams.
- Next, add fish fillets wrapped in parchment pockets, paper lunch bags, or sealed aluminum foil packets. Add the sausages and hot dogs (if using). Add the lobsters or crabs. Top the whole meal with a large, peeled whole onion nestled into the top layer.
- Cover tightly and steam 30 minutes, maintaining water at a full rolling boil.
- Check the onion, if it's cooked through and opaque, the clambake is cooked through. If not yet fully cooked, steam an additional 5 to 10 minutes. When done, lobsters and crabs will be completely red. Transfer to a large serving pan or onto a newspaper-lined table and serve immediately.
- Andouille or smoked kielbasa sausage can be substituted for the Portuguese sausages if they are not available in your area. You may also substitute cherry stone or other clams and mussels for the soft shell steamer clams if they are not available in your area. If you don't have parchment paper or aluminum foil, we've also used small brown paper lunch bags to steam the fish. However, they can easily break when removing so you have to use extra care for this.
- This recipe is easily doubled or tripled to feed a crowd.
Clam Boil FAQs.How do I store Clams before use?
Store fresh clams in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. They will be sold cold and alive. How do I store leftover steamed clams? Leftover cooked clams can be stored in a 40 degree F refrigerator for up to 2 days. Store them in some reserved cooking liquid for best results. Can I freeze whole clams? Yes. Whole fresh clams can be frozen in their shells by simply freezing them in water. We do this by placing them in a zip top bag on a baking tray and then adding water. Zip the top and then lay the bag flat. Clams can be frozen this way for up to 6 months.
How Do I reheat leftover clams? Leftover clams are best reheated by first heating some reserved cooking stock and then quickly adding the clams for just a few seconds to reheat them. Overheating them will cause them to turn rubbery. How can I repurpose leftover clams? Leftover clams are best in clam chowder, clam cakes, or stuffed clams.
Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy, and is sourced from the USDA Food Database.