Summer foods make me feel like a kid. Corn on the cob, grilled lobster, ice cream sandwiches, and of course my mom’s awesome beer-steamed littleneck clams. Clams might not be typical kid food, but in our house they were. When we were young, we would crowd around the patio table, dripping in our swimsuits, poking each other with our forks, fighting to get to the big bowl of clams and the little cups of butter.
Actually, that’s pretty much still what we do. A little less elbowing, but the scene is the same. The steaming bowl of clams is fragrant enough to draw a crowd to the table. But over the years I’ve gotten sneaky, and by offering to ‘help’ I invariably get to steal a sweet little clam directly from the pot. Shhh…. don’t tell.
Mom always serves the littlenecks with plenty of butter for dipping, as well as a bowl of the cooking broth for anyone who prefers to swish their clams in the fragrant liquid. And a big loaf of warm crusty bread is a must, because there is nothing better than a hunk of bread dipped in the broth.
When choosing clams, smaller is generally better. Most fish markets will label smaller hard-shelled clams as littlenecks, but don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t see them. Hard-shelled littleneck clams are tender and sweet, however, the larger clams tend to be a bit tough. Hard-shelled clams, also called quahogs, are abundant along the shore here in New England, but that doesn’t mean they are cheap (unless you head out clamming for yourself, of course). The good news is that they are rich and just a few clams per person is plenty for an appetizer. Especially when followed by grilled swordfish and caprese salad and strawberry shortcake (yeah, my parents rock).
Mom’s Little Neck Clams
Serves 4 as an appetizer
1/2 cup roughly chopped onion
3 stalks celery, cut in 1 inch pieces
2 teaspoons butter
12 ounces lager
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 pounds little neck clams, rinsed
1/2 cup melted butter, for serving
1 loaf crusty bread, for serving
In a large, deep saucepan, saute the onion and celery in butter over medium-low heat until soft, about 15 minutes. Add the beer, bay leaf, thyme, and peppercorns and bring to a simmer. Add the clams, cover, and cook just until the clams open, about 8 minutes. Discard any unopened clams. Spoon the clams into a large bowl. Fill small bowls with remaining beer broth and melted butter. Serve clams with broth and butter for dipping, and with bread for sopping up the juices.