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Fried Clam Tasting

during my just completed visit to boston, i wanted to try to find fried ipswich clam heaven. ended up going to seafood sam’s in sandwich, land ‘n sea in peabody, the clam box in ipswich, and essex seafood in essex.

seafood sam’s – we went here because one of my family lives 10 minutes from here, we know they get ipswich clams from a shucker/processor in rowley, and we had some time before a red sox game. the clams on the dinner plate had excellent clam flavor with good sweetness in the bellies and a pleasant nuttiness and chewiness in the foot. the coating was light and not greasy, but it was smooth, indicating a batter rather the 3 step process of white flour, evaporated milk, and corn flour. it did stick to the clam, though, indicating that they didn’t use water in the batter. the coating had a light, clean taste. the size was somewhere around a small box, and at 16.95 it an okay deal.

land ‘n sea – this was the first stop on our north shore run, and they get their clams from the same rowley processor as seafood sam’s. The small box was 8.50, but the clams themselves didn’t have much taste, and they were pretty greasy. The coating was smooth here, too, so we got the double whammy of batter and too low a frying temperature. The coating did have a clean taste, though.

clam box – we got a small order of regular clams and a small order of big belly clams. the price seemed high at 13.75 per order but we saw that the order comes in a boat instead of a box, so you get more clams than in a box. the coating was perfect, light golden, no grease, and with the crumbliness and nooks and crannies of the white flour, evaporated milk, and corn flour dipping process. it had just the right crunch. the regular clams had a beautiful sweetness and nuttiness which gradually filled our mouths, and just the right chewiness. the big bellies absolutely exploded in our mouths with perfect sweet clam flavor and perfect texture. the big bellies were as close to a perfect clam as we’ve ever tried. we liked that clam box posted on the wall that they change the oil every afternoon, which can delay orders.

essex seafood – we split a seafood platter here, which was definitely the deal of the day at 20.95. it contains clams, scallops, shrimp, and haddock sitting on top of a good size portion of fries and onion rings. there’s enough clams for a small box, so with a small box at 13.75, you’re basically getting everything else for 7 bucks. the coating was perfect, had just the right crunch, nothing was greasy, and the clams tasted just as good as the regular ones at clam box. the scallops and haddock had the sweet taste and texture of absolutely fresh seafood. the shrimp, onion rings, and fries were also fantastic. but…….and a big but, here…. the frying oil was old. We could smell it on our platter, taste it in our food, and smell it coming out of the kitchen as the cook was doing more orders. that was the only blemish, but it really took the experience down a notch.

rating on a scale of 100, i give seafood sam’s an 85, land ‘n sea a 75, clam box regular clams 96, clam box big bellies 99, and essex 90. i’d give the clam box big bellies 100, but i haven’t sampled enough other clams yet. if essex used cleaner oil, i’d give ‘em a 95 or 96, too. we didn’t have time for farnham’s, woodman’s or moulton’s in medford. next time.

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  1. Awesome report! I'm really surprised to hear about Essex dirty oil. They are my pick for North Shore clams (well, maybe tied with the Clam Box, with tartar from Farnhams!) and I've never had less than fresh oil there. I hope that is merely a blip.

    I wish Kelly's was in your mix. I was so pleasantly surprised at xmas how great the clams were and it was way out of season. Revere Beach location.

    1 Reply
    1. re: yumyum

      I had a similar experience last summer at Essex......too bad!

    2. What a good analysis. My husband and I are big fans of Clam Box. I had been to Essex Seafood and it was a total disappointment to me. I tasted old oil and the clams were not crispy. I was so regret that I bought my friend who came from thousands of miles to visit me but had not so good food.

      I want to try Farnham. Wonder is it any good.

      1. Excellent, the only thing I'd would of changed would be Essex Seafoods for Farnham's.

        1. If you come into town, try Yankee Lobster by the Bank of America Pavillion (Northern Ave. I believe). To me, they're the best in Boston. A lot of people like Neptune Oyster's clams in the North End, but I found them to be too salty.

          1. Great post, makes me want to head out to the Clam Box... 50:50 probability this weekend....

            1. did The Clam Box on Sunday, a small box of Big Bellies and a Lobster Roll with fries.

              didn't even make it out of the parking lot. i have to vacuum my Truck.

              the Clams were Perfect. the Lobster Roll was generous but with a bit too much mayo that hadn't been mixed in too well. the meat was so tender, done perfectly, that even that complaint was a quibble.

              the fries were pedestrian. i was kicking myself because i think i am the Lone Fan of their Onion Rings.

              this is going to be a Good Summer.

              7 Replies
              1. re: ScubaSteve

                Hey Scub, I was thinking of doing a clam crawl this early summer, may be starting at Lobster Pool in Rockport, then Causway, Farnham's, Clam Box and ending with ice cream at White Farms. Think some CHer's woild go? Other rec's?

                1. re: treb

                  oh, absolutely.
                  you could throw in Woodman's for comparison purposes, there'd be a couple more but i'd have to think about it.

                  1. re: ScubaSteve

                    How about the Choate Bridge - or is a sit-down only option not doable?

                    1. re: Small Plates

                      i'd prefer Shack-Style places. i'd think it would work best. everyone pile out, order one or two boxes of clams, eat, critique then off to the next. no messin' with waiters and such.

                      1. re: ScubaSteve

                        kind of out of the way of the others but we had clams recently at seafood, etc in haverhill (i think on your rec from last year possibly) and they were delicious. bonus--no line!!

                        1. re: jrmd

                          I'm not suprised.....The guy who started Seafood Etc. worked for the Clam Box in Ipswich for a long time and knew how to fry clams. He taught the new owners who have been there for the past 10 years and they haven't changed the process at all.

                  2. re: treb

                    Folks, here's the email address to send suggestions about the clam crawl, places, dates times etc. we'll get back to the board after we get the details ironed out. thanks.

                    treb08@comcast.net

                2. You may want to consider adding the Village Restaurant in Essex to the "next time" list.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: steve999

                    Yah, don't want to OD too much on a crawl and lose appreciation for those bi-valves, plus I know Scuba can probably out eat all of us! I think Woodman's may be worth an add in as it's very controversial on the board. I'll take the action to come up with a date, any suggestions are welcome, mid-week or week-end etc. and then ask the chowhound moderator if they can make this a sticky topic.

                  2. When you say 'regular clams' do you mean clam strips ? I always assumed regular clams had 'bellies'. Are 'big bellies' bigger than the average clam, or is it just strips vs. bellies ?

                    19 Replies
                    1. re: chowmel

                      "Big Bellies" are Big soft shell clams -- having big, sweet and juicy, bellies. Forever dismiss those plastic "clam strips" from your memory and future! This is the real thing.

                      FWIW "clam strips" are sliced hard shell clams... an entirely different (and sub-standard) fried clam choice IMO.

                      1. re: steinpilz

                        personally i have never liked big bellies. Mushy gross blackish crap in the inside just is a gross texture to me.. I typically will try to eat one then end up tearing the bellies off and throwing them into a pile on the side of my plate. To each their own.... Smaller more solid bellies i can deal with

                        Also i have lived in new england all my life and before coming to chow hound i have never heard of a clam referred to as a "big belly" clam.. It has always been "whole clams" or just "fried clams".. Where strips were always specified as "clam strips".. Is there a place that has 3 types of clams? 1) Regular fried clams. 2) clam strips 3) big belly fried clams??? Maybe thats the confusion, i just have never been to that place.

                        1. re: hargau

                          Yes, Clam Box definitely offers regular clams and big belly clams (which you'll pay more for and which aren't always avalable). The regular fried clams do have bellies too, just smaller. I"m not sure if they also offer strips, I've never looked for them.

                          1. re: hargau

                            Whole bellies are what I've always refered to when ordering fried clams, having lived NOB since birth. Clam strips, to me, are just like rubber.

                            This thread has me longing for the week-end so I can satisfy my own fried clam cravings. TGIF!!

                            1. re: hargau

                              I prefer the "big bellies"..but at most places just ask if they're small or large that day.

                              The Clam Box (Ipswich) AFAIK is 1 of the few places that actually make the distinction on the menu..big bellies or regular.

                              When I buy steamer clams..same soft shell clams in fried clams ..usually at Hook's; I ask them for the larger ones.

                              Clam strips..I won't order..large sea clams that are cut into strips and fried..much less costly. Ironically, as a kid, I liked clam strips..and my mother always kept the freezer well stocked with a few boxes from the now departed Howard Johnson..coincidentally from Quincy, MA.

                              BTW, as far as the clam crawl, there have been a few over the years. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to make it but they drew up to 12+ or so hounds...and usually hit 4-5 places and sounded like a great time.

                              I could probably find reports but too lazy to search..:)

                              1. re: hargau

                                hargau-
                                The Clam Box has all 3 types, regular, big belly and strip.

                                1. re: ScubaSteve

                                  So its a clam-box thing? I have never been there.

                                  Also there are good clam strips out there. They are not all rubber. The prebreaded frozen howard johnsons or Sysco type are not the same as a place that gets them fresh from the same supplier as their whole clams and breads them themselves and cooks them properly... Same with minced clams used in clam chowder. Some may open a 5 gallon can of them, others get them from their seafood supplier, freshly minced.. There is a world of difference. Its like saying "i wont order french fries" cause the ora-ida ones we had baked on a cookie sheet as kids were horrible, so therefore all are.

                                  I think alot of the people with the "all strips are rubber junk" mentality have only had them at places where that was the only choice/all that was available. In other words at a place that doesnt specialize in fried clams/seafood and is using prebreaded/frozen junk.. Since you prefer the whole bellies why would you have ever have them at a real seafood place where that was an option..

                                  To clarify though, i will eat the whole clams but if the bellies are mushy, full of black clam-crap, or large, i tear them off and just eat the rest.

                                  1. re: hargau

                                    not just the Calm Box, JT Farnhams has the same set up. and like others have said, big bellies are not available all the time :-(

                                    if we do this Clam Crawl, and you do attend, gimme all those bellies you don't want. i Love 'em.

                                    1. re: ScubaSteve

                                      lol i was thinking the same thing! By the way im similar with Scallops. I prefer fresh sweet small bay scallops then the giant more expensive "gourmet" sea scallops. Medium sea scallops if cooked properly are decent too. Most people feel the oposite.

                                      1. re: hargau

                                        Unfortunately, the bay, cape, Nantucket scallops are only available for a short time..Dec/Jan or so. They're the most costly, then larger sea scallops. I enjoy both..raw or slightly cooked..to keep it Boston centric, I had a good batch from Hook's the other day. You also have the so called "day boat"...that is brought to market daily instead of spending some time on a boat coming from George's Bank.

                                        http://flickr.com/photos/61246842@N00...

                                        Also common are Calico..which are small to mid size..They are my least favorite...also the least expensive in the market.

                                      2. re: ScubaSteve

                                        No if's about it, just when. Throw out some convienent times, i.e. day of the week afternoon or evening etc.

                                        1. re: treb

                                          We'd be happy to "sticky" an announcement so that plans can be made, but please do the event organizing offline. Our guidelines for event planning are here http://www.chowhound.com/topics/36760...

                                          1. re: The Chowhound Team

                                            Will do thanks.

                                            1. re: treb

                                              wish i could join you guys on the crawl. i'm ready to od on clams again. speakin' of big bellies, i've been to places (mostly sit-down) where the supplier didn't sort the clams, so small and big were mixed together. and some of those big bellies weren't all that tasty (freshness might have been a factor). but the order we had at the clam box last saturday was the ne plus ultra of clams for me so far. and on that day they were the same price as the small bellies.

                                      3. re: hargau

                                        While I do love the big-bellies, I think Neptune Oyster and even the Summer Shack have delicious versions of fried clams smaller than the regular clam shack size. These small bellies are quite flavorful.

                                        1. re: hargau

                                          Well - harumph! LOL
                                          I have never ordered clam strips but have tasted them in the past and simply did not like them. Tasted just like rubber.
                                          One good place for clams that I've found recently is the Twin Seafood in Reading. Large, sweet, batter not greasy, Whole clams! Yum.

                                          1. re: Gio

                                            There is a Twin Seafoods in Concord as well. We go there for fish and chips and... clam strips as well! I have had some rubbery fried calamari as well.. But i love fried calamari

                                            1. re: hargau

                                              Yes - I believe the Concord store is owned by the uncles of the boys who own the Reading store. Calamari can be difficult to fry....I love it too. I love all seafood.

                                      4. re: hargau

                                        I'm glad I'm not the only one that thinks the blackish stuff in the belly is gross...just like non-deveined shrimp to me ;-)

                                  2. thanks for all the suggestions on other places to add to the list next time. as long as the supplies are fresh, any day is a good clam day.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: beantowntitletown

                                      On the advice of the board we hit the Clambox on Sunday. The wife and I ordered a small box of regular belly and a small box of big belly. They were the same price. We sat outside on the picknick benches and had a very nice time. I thought the big bellies were much more flavorful and interesting.

                                      One thing I wish I'd realized is that once you order and get a number you can go outside and wait for your number to be called- they have outside loudspeakers.