It's a classic chicken-or-the-egg dilemma.
"I'm not sure if summer was created for eating fried clams, or if fried clams were created to eat in the summer," Adam Geringer-Dunn, the chef/co-owner of Greenpoint Fish & Lobster in Brooklyn, wonders.
Either way, we can all agree: It's not summer unless you've gotten your hands on a paper boat brimming with crispy, golden fried clams, spritzed with a bit of lemon and doused in tartar sauce (see the video above).
"There's seasonality to eating, and there's a seasonality to craving," Jeremy Sewall, the chef/owner of Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston, says. "This is the time of year. You don't crave clams in January. You crave them in summer when you can sit outside with a cold beer and fried clams."
Since not all of us can coast to a New England clam shack, we've got a recipe that will prevent some serious FOMO from souring your summer (get it here). But since we're mostly Californians, New Jersey natives and Southerners here at TT, we picked the brains of some of our favorite seafood-loving chefs to get their insight on mastering the classic dish at home. Let's shell out their advice.
Belly > Strips
The age-old dilemma of belly vs. strips goes much deeper than that—they're, in fact, two different species. "Clam strips are made from large surf clams, shucked, pounded flat and cut into strips," Geringer-Dunn explains. "They're much chewier and lack nearly all the delicious clam flavor you get from whole-belly clams." So go with your, err, its gut, and pick up clam bellies, which are soft-shell varieties like Ipswich. "You get a slightly sweet chew from the skirt and the siphon with a juicy, slightly creamy belly," Sam Baxter, the chef at Connie & Ted's in L.A., says.
As much as we love sticking our toes in the sand, we don't like it in our clams. Matthew Gaudet, chef at West Bridge in Boston, understands the struggle. "Purge!!!" he exclaims. "I immediately put the clams in ice-cold, salty water with a handful of cornmeal and another handful of salt to remove the grit." However, don't fret if a few grains straggle behind. "Sometimes eating really good fried clams means eating a little bit of sand," Sewall says. "That's the ritual." Alternatively, you can easily find preshucked clams at local seafood markets.
First-Place Fry Mix
The real game changer in your dry mix probably isn't in your pantry. "Corn flour is the only dredge," Gaudet says. "It should be a thin and crispy crust with straightforward clam flavor." The superfine flour is made from ground whole kernels and lends extra crunch. As for the wet ingredients, nearly every chef we talked to praised the power of buttermilk. "Buttermilk has great flavor," Sewall explains. "Plus, you can do batches ahead of time." We also whip an egg into our wet ingredients for more richness.
Though most of the chefs rely on deep fryers, you can still achieve golden glory with a heavy-bottomed pot and a few glugs of canola oil. The key is to be patient and fry in batches. "Don't overcrowd, because the temperature will drop and the clams will fry too long, leaving them chewy and overcooked," Baxter warns.
End with a Bang (or Tartar Sauce)
How to finish it all off? "Homemade tartar sauce and a lemon wedge," Geringer-Dunn says. "That's it!" Now, you can't beat the classic one-two-tangy punch as the condiment companion to those hot pockets of briny goodness. For our recipe, we stick with the classic combo—because why mess with a good thing?
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