A Taste of Summer: My Mom’s Littleneck Clams

beer-steamed clams

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. 

littleneck clamsActually, 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.

quahogs steamed in beerWhen 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).

picnic RI clams 

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. 

littleneck clam shells

Published in: on June 20, 2010 at 6:55 pm  Comments (40)  
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40 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Loved this one. The pictures look so good I want to make them again!!

  2. I think my parents just boil them in water, and they are still delicious, but this could be an interesting twist. My summer meal is steamers, corn on the cob, and lobster on the deck at my parents lake house. That is one thing I really miss about New England. I don’t do sea food in the Mid-west 🙂

    • I know what you mean! My years in the Midwest were sadly without seafood. It just means you have to visit the East Coast moe often!

  3. Summer food! Love it…now just for summer to actually arrive in Europe :/

    • Still no summer there? Maybe if you start with summer food, weather will follow!

  4. Great idea to use lager! Just made me wish I had some for lunch!

  5. Love this post, Cozy! 🙂 Can totally picture you and your sibs jabbing each other with forks. 🙂 Mmm, your Mom’s clams sound fantastic!!!

  6. We used to spend a month or so on Nantucket many years ago and my sons went out clamming often. We steamed them in onion, garlic, white wine and some herbs. Sheer heaven! And there was always a pushing contest when we got down to the bottom!
    Nowadays I have to search them out at the fishmongers. Your mom’s recipe is similar except she uses beer. My now-grown boys might like that better!

  7. It always seems strange to me when children don’t like clams, because they were a real treat for us as kids, too–although I only remember having them in restaurants, not at home.

  8. Sadly I have not developed a taste for clams. I say sadly because you make them sound like such a special treat! If I had been introduced to them at a young age like you I’m sure I would love them.

  9. When we were children we spent lots of time by the sea where my father had a ritual of buying clams. We couldn’t bare to see one more clam after that particular time in our lives.
    The last time I had clams was at a friend’s house…and I can thankfully report that it had turned out to be a pleasant culinary experience.
    Now, I might dive in and try making them soon myself.
    Therefore, thanks for bringing up the topic of clams and for the recipe of course;o)
    Flavourful wishes, Claudia

  10. we love clams!! clams and linguine are on the menu here every week! just dipping them in butter is wonderful, haven’t had them that way in long time!
    thanks for reminding me!

  11. Clams are my favorite when summer comes-going to the cape august and will be knee deep in clams–thanks for the post!

  12. Dunking bread after ever last bit of clam has been extracted or retrieved from the broth might be the best part.

    • Might? No doubt about it, the bread dunking is totally the best part! In fact, my mom used to buy two whole baguettes for dunking, just to make sure we would get every last drop!

  13. Comments? Slurp, smack, drool, mop chin, slurp (and repeat). Oh this reminds me so much of my childhood in Washington State during the minus tides when we dug little clams from mounds, pried oysters off the rocks, excavated for goeducs and battled the surf for razer clams. We would even wade in the Strait of Juan de Fuca for crabs so plentiful you would step arond cautiously in tennis shoes until you found a lump. Pick up the lump, keep the boys, toss the girls back. Cold, wet, sandy, salty and fun, fun, fun. The only thing missing there was lobster. I couldn’t believe my taste buds when living in New England. Lobster and butter. Sublime. Cold water makes the best sea food. California’s “dungeness” crab is really soso, and I believe it’s because the water is warmer.

    • So true Norine! Having grown up in New England I am picky about seafood, and find that the best products (to my taste buds anyway) usually comes off the boats in RI.

  14. This is sounds awesome, tasty and summery!!!

    I like your summer food memories 🙂

  15. I love dishes that are passed down through the family like this. What a fabulous summer meal!

  16. Looks like the perfect dish to enjoy outdoors on a warm day! 🙂

  17. I just got back from the beach where I binged on clams! These look delicious and make me want more.

  18. wow – these look delicious but I’ve afraid it would serve 2 in our house. LOL Just a few more days then a long drive and we’ll be digging our own on the Oregon coast. Can’t wait!

    • Haha, ok, I will admit that three of us gobbled the two pounds of clams in this recipe. I could totally eat them all myself, but I’d regret it!

  19. It’s funny how some foods trigger memory. Clams do that for me. I love your recipe and the backstory you shared with us today. I hope you have a great day. Blessings…Mary

  20. Thanks for the tips when buying the clams. I really am bad at choosing seafood. That will help and those clams look yummy!

  21. Hi Katie,
    As a former Long Islander, your food memory touched on one of mine.
    My dad lived in Little Neck; my mom in Great Neck—little neck clams steamed and served with rich sopping broth were legendary. Sweet!
    Thanks for the fun post—-Nancy

  22. This is a great recipe. Love the memories as well.

  23. Popped in to say hi! I’ve never had clams but I’ve always wanted to try them! You make them sound magical!

  24. Dear Katie – Totally digg your Mum’s clams 🙂 So simple, immensely satisfying I’m sure. I love that you’re putting up your family recipes.

    I still have your Grandma’s chocolate zucchini loaf on my list to do soon 🙂

    Ciao, Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  25. Yum!! Sometimes I wish I lived on the Coast – I think I would eat a lot more shell fish 🙂 I did have some clams, and lobster, and crab in Boston though!!

  26. What a great photo! Looks lovely!

  27. My husband adores these clams. I’ll be trying your mother’s method of cooking them. I’m sure he’ll be a happy man, they look fantastic!

  28. I love summer food too! I’ve been a grilling fool lately! Your mom’s clam recipe looks so scrumptious! I haven’t had clams in forever! Yum!

  29. I’m so jealous of you who live on the coast with all of your fresh food from the sea (grrrrr…BP)!! This sounds awesome, I almost felt like I was there!! Definitely soakin’ up the juices w/ a hunk of bread would be like heaven!! thanks for sharing such beautiful memories with us =)

  30. Can I some how make this dish with out using my oven…. HA!!! Looks so good. I want a big ol piece of SF sourdough bread to soak up the goodness!!!
    Your blog is amazing. Thank you for sharing. Love it!!!

  31. I’ve actually never eaten clams, but i want to try them. They look so pretty, ad its so cool that you can get them so fresh like that.
    Have a wonderful weekend.
    *kisses* HH

  32. great recipe, so glad you shared your mom’s recipe oh summer foods always bring back childhood memories


  33. Katie this just screams summer! I love clams! Reminds me of home in Boston and going to Cape Cod with my family. THanks for making me smile and bringing back such fond food memories!

  34. These look wonderful and make me wistful for the summer.

  35. I love this! That’s true that I do not eat them so often but once I eat them, I really enjoy 🙂 And that it is true that in summertime we come back sometimes (or , at least, we miss) dishes and preparations from our childhood 🙂
    For me, it is just sour milk, forest berries, mushrooms and pickles (I did not know seafood when I was a kid).

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