we went to the upper peninsula before my birthday and i thought i wasn’t going to get to enjoy a birthday tradition. but lo! kris had fresh clams shipped from maine to the upper peninsula and managed to keep it a secret. and she even brought some pasture butter which made the meal even more perfect!
it’s something of a birthday tradition for kris to get some clams flown in from main for my birthday and this year was no exception. two pounds of clams arrived at our house the day before my birthday from simplylobsters.com in lewiston, maine which is sort-of close to my ancestral homeland in and around machias, maine which is way, way, waaaaaaay down east.
typically i make steamed clams because, well, there are few things better than a perfectly steamed clam dunked in broth and slathered in butter! but this year i thought it’d be fun to try my hand at fried clams because if there is one thing better than a steamed clam, it’s a fried clam!
i’m a traditionalist at heart so a simple “clam shack” style recipe is what i wanted. light and minimal with no fancy herbs and spices to get in the way of the taste of the clams. i found the perfect clam-shack style fried clams recipe over at leite’s culinaria ( side note: i find it amusing that the yankee cook recipe has a bunch of herbs and spices. tsk. tsk. )
i couldn’t agree more with this quote from leite’s culinaria recipe ( even though it does include cayenne ):
“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 cup corn flour (or masa harina)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 to 2 pounds of shucked whole-belly steamer clams
4-6 cups canola oil
1 cup buttermilk ( you could use somethign lesser but i recommend organic valley buttermilk )
first, shuck the clams if they didn’t arrive already shucked. don’t cut yourself! it’s super important to tap the foot of the clam before shucking and discard any clams that remain open or don’t respond when tapped!
rinse and drain clams colander and stir together with *cough* organic valley buttermilk *cough* in a large bowl ( o.k. yes, i work for organic valley and am perhaps a bit biased but seriously, this is no time to go for a lesser quality ingredient 🙂 let sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients and heat the oil to 380°F or so.
combine the flours, salt, and and black and cayenne peppers in a largish mixing bowl or pie plate. you want something big enough to dredge clams through. using a slotted spoon or whatever you have that will allow the excess buttermilk to drip away without allowing the clams to fall back into the bowl.
then, pick up a few clams, let the excess buttermilk drip off, and dredge them through the batter mixture. move them about to coat evenly.
shake off the excess breading and dunk them the fryer. let them cook for a 20 seconds or so before disturbing so the breading had time to adhere to the clam. then stir the clams around to ensure they cook evenly. use your head and don’t splatter hot grease everywhere!
cook until golden brown. maybe about 1-2 minutes per batch depending on how many clams you fry in a batch. FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY DO NOT OVERCOOK THEM!
i was pondering making 1 pound into steamers and 1 pound into fried clams but i ended up making all two pounds nito fried clams because i had such a strong hankering for them. and, holy cow, am i glad i did.
seriously, i have never had fried clams this good outside of maine. and i dare say i’ve only had clams this good in a few rare spots on the coast. tender, light and minimal. not too heavy at all and the clam flavor really burts through.
especially when you break open the stomach between your teeth!
you can take me from down east but you can’t take the down east from me 🙂
i bet they’ll make some wicked good steamahs!
ed: this is also the day i realized i probably wouldn’t rely on my crappy loaner cell phone’s camera to document the trip.
at last, we’re finally on last leg of the trip to maine!
i’m sure the folks in cars around us wondering why we were all very excited to see pushkin gallery as we drove through greenfield, massachusetts. we all miss our pushkin though i doubt the feeling is mutual since he’s staying with a dog sitter who has 3 other dogs!
after 1,700 miles of driving, we finally arrived in machias, maine and the first order of business? a big plate of clams from helen’s restaurant. while we wait, odin enjoys a maine root sarsaparilla root beer.
finally, the clams arrived! mmm mmmm molluscs!
strangely, i still can’t get odin to try the delicious molluscs steamed to perfection.