15 Uses For Canned Clams

When it comes to seafood, the canned food aisle probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind. But canned clams are not just a practical pantry item. They are as worthy of a spot on the dinner table as their fresh counterparts. Even chefs like Jacques Pepin use canned clams. Pepin points out that cooking fresh clams at home means dealing with finicky cooking times that can result in a rubbery final product. Canned versions, on the other hand, are pre-cooked to tender perfection.

Fresh clams need a time-intensive scrub before you cook with them. Sold in chopped or whole varieties, canned clams allow you to skip the prep time needed with the fresh stuff, so you can get food on the table faster. Plus, they are shelf-stable, so it is easy to keep a can or two around when the mood for a clam dish strikes.

While US-canned clams are typically Atlantic surf clams, clams are canned all over the world. There is more choice than ever, as the popularity and variety of tinned seafood have exploded in recent years. From traditional clam dishes to recipes designed with the shelf-stable stuff in mind, it's worth stocking up on canned clams and giving them some serious space in your kitchen.

Top a seafood pizza

Because canned clams are gently pre-cooked, they are perfect for a fast-cooking dish like a pizza, which comes out of the oven in minutes. Popularized in New Haven, Connecticut, white clam pizza balances briny clams and sweet cream with the slightly bitter bite of broccoli rabe. A squeeze of lemon finishes off this bright, decadent pizza. Most recipes call for cleaning and steaming fresh clams, but you can skip those steps with a can. Add a bit of the can's liquid, or some jarred clam juice, to the shallot and cream sauce to infuse some of the mollusk's flavor. Then, you can simply top the pizza with the drained clams right before the pizza goes into the oven.

If a white pizza isn't your thing, you can use canned clams to make a frutti de mare pie. Italian for fruits of the sea, a pizza ai frutti di mare is topped with a variety of seafood, like with squid, mussels, clams, and shrimp, with a simple red tomato sauce as a base. Since the pizza is topped with shelled whole clams, a can of whole clams fits right in.

Bake a party-worthy dip

It isn't a party without a clam dip, and canned clams will fit right in. The best dips and appetizers can be put together quickly with pantry ingredients while still being endlessly snackable. With those criteria in mind, nothing fits the bill better than a dip made with canned clams.

Clam dip is one of the most straightforward uses for canned clams. Since they are pre-cooked in the canning process, they can go straight from the can to the bowl, and you won't have to worry that they've been overcooked until rubbery and chewy. Plus, it is easy to scale up for a crowd when using clams from the can. You won't have to mess with pounds of the fresh stuff. For a cold clam dip, add some lemons, chives, sour cream, and condiments like Worcestershire and Tabasco sauce to chopped clams, and your fan-favorite dip is ready to go. Add in a touch of their liquor from the can for some added clam flavor. Don't forget the chips.

Serve a simple linguine with clams

Also known as linguine alle vongole, this classic Italian pasta dish comes together quickly in a pan. With a can of clams, it gets even faster. While traditional recipes call for whole fresh clams, using canned seafood means you won't have to pick through shells while you eat. And with the clams prepped before you even open the can, you won't have to worry about thoroughly cleaning the clams in their shells (or ending up with a sandy bite of pasta).

For linguine alle vongole, a sauce of shallots, garlic, and white wine gets tossed with cooked clams and pasta. The pasta is then finished with parsley and lemon. You can use canned clams and a bit of their liquor, or bottled clam juice, in the dish to make a weeknight-friendly meal that much friendlier. And with canned clams being loaded with minerals and low-calorie protein, it's a fantastic balance of nutrition and ease.

Try them on toast

Fresh clams don't exactly make for a no-fuss meal prep. But perfectly bite-sized canned clams make a quick, delicious dish when put on toast. Start with fresh aromatics like fennel or garlic cooked down until soft. Toss in the drained clams until they are warmed through, and the flavors have gotten a chance to mingle. Top a thick slice of hearty bread, like sourdough, with the mixture to make a hearty and simple lunch or appetizer.

From there, possible variations are endless. Add lemon and fresh herbs to add brightness to the briny clams or chili peppers for a spicy kick. Top the clams with cheese and throw it under the broiler for a seafood variation on garlic bread. You can even add beans to bulk up the meal and add more fiber. Small white beans, like cannellini or Great Northern beans, are about the same size as clams and will pair well on toast.

Speed up your clam chowder

Clam chowder is one of the most popular — and hotly debated — uses for canned clams. Any clam chowder fan has their favorite of the main three iterations: Rhode Island, New England, or Manhattan style chowder. A New England chowder features potatoes and cream, giving it a characteristic color and thickness. Rhode Island clam chowder omits the cream and showcases the clams in a clear broth. Manhattan style also forgoes the cream but replaces it with tomatoes to make a deep red broth. No matter which way you like clam chowder, using canned clams is not only optional, it's ideal. Typical chowder recipes (no matter what kind you prefer) use canned clams since you get all of the flavor with none of the sandy shells.

Because the canned variety is already cooked, you can add them in right at the end to finish the soup. Most chowder recipes call for both the canned clams and their liquid, so be sure to pick a variety of clams that come packed in brine. While whole or minced clams will work, chopped clams are the ideal size and texture for a spoonful of chowder.

Throw a tinned seafood party

Tinned seafood is all the rage right now, and cans of everything, from octopus to clams to mussels, are filling TikTok feeds. While "fresh is best" has been the conventional wisdom regarding seafood, the rising popularity of can-preserved versions proves that they have their own advantages. Thanks to their shelf-stable nature, they allow seafood lovers to try varieties from waters all over the world while preserving their natural, distinct flavor. While there are many uses for canned clams, a tinned seafood party means that your work begins and ends with opening a can.

Restaurants and bars are taking advantage of the trend by putting conserved seafood snacks all over their menu. Why shouldn't you do the same? Next time it's your turn to host, put together a snack board spread with a few varieties of canned seafood. Clams packed in flavorful oil or brine make a great addition. Varieties like cockles, cherrystones, and razor clams can all be found canned; you can even get smoked clams to add a whole new flavorful dimension to the salty bivalves. Make sure to have bread on hand for dipping.

Keep it simple with fried clams

Fried clams are a popular beachside snack all along the coast of New England, and for good reason. Traditionally served in a basket lined in paper at clam shacks, crispy fried clams don't need any fancy treatment. In that same spirit of simplicity, this is one of the easiest uses for canned clams. Save yourself time and skip the shucking and cleaning that you'd be stuck with using fresh clams by using drained whole clams from the tin.

A simple batter of flour, milk, cornmeal, and an egg coats the clams before a quick fry in hot oil. Frying with fresh clams can be tricky, as you need to balance crisping the battered exterior with cooking the clams themselves. Since canned clams are already cooked, the fried clams are done as soon as the batter turns golden. You probably won't be snacking on them on a Massachusetts boardwalk, but dipped in a simple tartar sauce with a squeeze of lemon, your homemade fried clams will still feel like a seaside treat.

Cook a lazy man's cioppino

Cioppino was invented in San Francisco by Italian immigrant fishermen. Since these fishermen would make the seafood stew out of whatever happened to be the catch of the day, cioppino can hold all kinds of creatures of the sea. Any combination of choices like mussels, squid, clams, shrimp, or fish can be used in this tomatoey dish. Since you probably aren't making yours with seafood you pulled from the water this morning, why not add a can of clams?

When using clams still in the shell, you'd need to make sure they all open properly in the cooking broth — and fish out ones that don't. Using canned whole clams takes out the guesswork. Plus, a cioppino made with all those pesky shells removed — called a "lazy man's cioppino"— makes it that much easier to enjoy the stew with some fresh baguette or sourdough on the side. Just add the drained clams to the cioppino at the end of the cooking process until they are heated through. Use whole clams, not chopped, to preserve the "catch of the day" spirit of the dish. 

Add to a deep-fried dough

Clam fritters are another deep-fried clam option. Unlike a simple fried clam, fritters use clams as just one of many ingredients in a deliciously deep-fried ball. Whether they are referred to as clam fritters or clam cakes, this dish is popular all along the Eastern coastline of the United States. Clams are combined with veggies, usually onion or bell pepper, and dipped in a seasoned batter. Because the clams need to mix well with the batter, they need to be chopped finely. Using a chopped and drained can of clams is a great option. The leftover liquid can even be used to help bind the batter when combined with the egg. 

With the clams ready to go from the can, you can think about all the possible tasty additions instead of shucking and chopping the fresh stuff; from jalapenos to corn and even bacon, fritters are pretty much a blank canvas for your deep-fried dreams. Just don't forget to serve them with lemon wedges and tartar sauce on the side.

Pair them with Spanish chorizo

Chorizo and seafood are a classic pairing in Spanish cuisine, and clams are certainly no exception to the rule. The smoky, spicy flavor of the cured sausage complements the bright and briny clams. Since chorizo is dried and pre-cooked, it's a match made in heaven with canned clams for a fast and flavorful meal.

When combined, the possibilities are endless. Cook rice in the rendered chorizo fat with some added broth, then add the proteins back in to make a complete and hearty dish. Tossing them in pasta certainly wouldn't be a bad idea, either. Or, skip the starch and leave the clams and chorizo swimming in a broth spiked with white wine, sherry, or liquid from the canned clams. No matter how you showcase the pairing, make sure to cook the chorizo first to render out the deliciously seasoned fat. The clams, on the other hand, should be added at the very end.

Make a stuffed mushroom appetizer

Clams Casino are great, but for a finger food, they are a lot of work. Cleaning and shucking the clams just to put them back in the shell in the end doesn't always feel like a good use of your time. But what if the cheesy clam filling was stuffed into something else? Something edible? True party snack perfection can be found in a clam-stuffed mushroom. Stuffed mushrooms are a popular appetizer at Olive Garden, but it's almost as easy to make them at home when using canned clams. 

You can't go wrong with a mixture of cheeses, butter, garlic, breadcrumbs, and chopped canned clams in your stuffed mushrooms, but the possibilities are almost endless for this filling. From there, remove the stems from the mini portobello mushrooms and stuff the caps with the filling before popping them in an oven to bake. It can be done from start to finish in an hour, and no one will miss the clam shells.

Create a clam-filled carbonara

Pasta is a pantry staple. Canned clams should be a pantry staple. Clams go great with pasta. No wonder there are so many ways to use them together. Pasta carbonara is a classic pasta dish with ingredients that already complement the briny flavor of seafood, and a can of chopped clams will take it to a whole new level.

 Carbonara is made with a silky, cheesy sauce that coats noodles and pancetta. Since a carbonara sauce is built from eggs and cheese in just minutes, you'd have to steam whole clams separately; skip it by using chopped canned clams. The sauce is thickened with starchy salted pasta water. You can add some of the liquid from your canned clams to boost the seafood flavor and also aid the thickening process. The sauce is packed with rich, savory ingredients like pancetta, parmesan, and egg yolks; any subtle differences between the taste of fresh and canned clams won't be noticeable.

Simplify a ceviche

Ceviche is a classic Peruvian dish with a base of marinated seafood. The citrus in the marinade gently "cooks" the seafood (technically it denatures the proteins). The mixture is then tossed with other fresh ingredients like chili peppers, tomato, onion, and avocado.

Because canned clams are pre-cooked, you don't need to worry about pre-marinating or figuring out what denaturing a protein actually means. You can use whole canned clams or canned cockles as an alternative to raw shrimp or fish in ceviche. Just drain them and combine with lemon and lime juice, seasonings, and the rest of the fresh ingredients. Once combined, let rest for at least half an hour to let the flavors meld. When you are ready to eat, top the ceviche with cilantro and serve with tortilla chips. Since canned clams are high in protein, they are a perfect addition to this healthy snack, and the bright marinade will freshen their flavor.

Cook up a haemul pajeon

Haemul pajeon is a savory pancake that can be made from anything from shrimp to clams to squid, making it extremely adaptable to whatever you have on hand. Since the seafood for this fast-cooking scallion pancake needs to be cleaned and chopped into bite-sized pieces, canned clams are a great option.

In particular, chopped varieties of canned clams are already the perfect size for you to add straight into the batter. Just be sure to completely drain and dry the clams. By doing this, you'll ensure that you're not adding any additional moisture to the pancake batter. You can either use the clams on their own or combine them with another type of seafood; no matter what you use, these pancakes should always be served with a savory dipping sauce made of soy sauce, vinegar, and red pepper flakes. You can buy a premade pajeon mix to make them at home, but all-purpose flour works just as well, making this a true pantry meal.

Toss into fried rice

Best made with day-old rice, fried rice is less a recipe and more a blank canvas for whatever you have in the fridge or pantry. That makes it one of the easiest crowd-pleasing uses for canned clams. Since fried rice comes together very quickly in the pan, perfectly pre-cooked canned whole clams can be added to the stir fry at the end of the cooking process, just until heated through.

There are almost no rules for what can go into fried rice, but for restaurant-quality fried rice at home, add aromatics like scallions, onions, garlic, and ginger to build a flavorful base. Make sure your grains of rice are dry and separated, and keep the pan nice and hot. From there, you can add pretty much any vegetable or protein to the dish. Smoky bacon, ham, or spicy sausage would pair well with the clams, but even just some frozen veggies will make a delicious and filling clam-fried rice.