How to Steam Clams

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steamed clams

“Steamed Clams” by fortes is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Ordering a steamed clam dish at a restaurant is a delicious way to enjoy this seafood favorite. But it’s also an easy recipe to whip up at home using some fresh clams, garlic butter, white wine, and fresh herbs and spices. Steaming clams takes about 15 minutes from start to finish, making it the perfect quick dinner for busy weekday nights. 

If you’ve ever wondered how to steam clams, you’ve come to the right place. Follow along for step-by-step instructions and a simple steamer clams recipe for you to try on your own. 

Why Steam Clams?

Steaming clams tends to be one of the easiest ways to cook and eat this particular shellfish. When steamed for long enough, the clamshells open on their own to expose the meat inside, making for a quick and simple dish. The best type of clam to use for steaming is a soft shell clam, like littleneck clams, as they open easily when steamed. 

When you steam clams, you’re also cooking the clam meat. Although some people like to enjoy raw clam meat, doing so carries several potential health hazards. According to the Virginia Department of Health, consuming raw clams can put the eater at risk of contracting bacteria found in the water or from handling the clams. And those with specific health conditions, like liver disease or cancer, can be more at risk of severe illness or death from eating them.

So, it’s best to stick with the cooked version. Because steamed littleneck clams can cook in about 5-10 minutes, it makes for a fuss-free dinner that’s ready in no time.

How to Steam Clams

Ready to start steaming clams? Grab some broth or water, a Dutch oven, and your soft shell clams to get started. 

Step 1: Inspect the Clams

First things first: always inspect the clams before you move onto cleaning and cooking them. Clams have ligaments that attach to their shells, allowing them to open and close. When a shell in your batch of clams is open, and the clam doesn’t seem to respond by closing their shells when you tap on the outside of the shell or gently touch the ligament, then that clam is probably dead and shouldn’t be eaten. Therefore, it’s important to remove these clams from the batch before you steam them.

You should also look through the bunch to see if any clams have an off-putting smell. The odor will be strong and very fish-like, unlike the usual subtle ocean flavor of fresh clams. Check through the batch, giving each clam a quick sniff before moving on.

Step 2: Clean and Prepare the Clams

Next, it’s time to clean and prepare the clams for steaming. This step is just as important as inspecting the clams before cooking, as it gets rid of that gritty texture you might get if you happened to skip it. Plus, you’ll remove potentially harmful bacteria and germs that could be on the clams from the usual handling process.

To clean the clams, put them in a large bowl or pot and cover them with cold water and a little bit of salt. Move the clams around with your hands gently to rinse off any loose debris. Then, cover the bowl or pot with a lid and soak for 15-20 minutes. When time is up, pour the claims and water into a strainer and rinse with cold water. Then, add the clams back to the pot or bowl with fresh water and salt, and repeat the process. Complete two or three rounds the same way rinse the clams.

After all rounds are done, you can use a metal brush to scrub the outside of the clams well and give them another good rinse under cold water. 

Step 3: Steam the Clams

Finally, it’s time to learn how to steam clams. Trust us — it’s easy! Whether you have small or large clams, you can use the same process, but large clams might take just an extra minute or two to steam thoroughly.

Here are the basics, but you can also follow the recipe below if you have a little more time and finesse to spare. First, fill a large pot with water. A good rule of thumb is about ½ cup of water for every pound of clams in the pot. Alternatively, you can use clam broth, chicken broth, white wine, or another preferred cooking liquid for a little extra flavor. Now’s the time to add your favorite fresh herbs to the pot too. Parsley, Thai basil, and thyme work well. A splash of lemon juice, some salt, garlic, and butter are also good additions.

Heat the pot over medium heat. Then, add cleaned and prepped clams. Cover the pot with a lid and steam for 5-10 minutes, or until the shells pop open. The time it takes for them to cook depends on how large the clams are and how many pounds you use. Once steamed, remove and discard any unopened clams.