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Looking for fried (whole belly) clams...

After a 4 year stint in Boston, we're more than happy to call the PNW our home. But my wife and I are craving fried whole belly clams, which was huge in New England. Despite being a seafood city, we can't find this kind of food anywhere in Seattle. Anyone have any suggestions in the city or the region?

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  1. Always one of the things I get when I head back East.

    I feel like I got some once as part of one of those big fried baskets that seafood places do, but I cannot remember where that might have been... (Salty's? Salmon House? Elliot's?)

    It very well may have been in Boston when I was there hanging out with friends from Seattle (thus screwing with my intertwined memories)

    1. I live in Portland, OR - transplanted from NYC, and I also miss whole belly clams. Last time I had them I was in CT.

      Haven't ever seen them around these parts, sorry. But, as a quick stand in, may I suggest fried oysters? Our oysters are amazing, even better than what's on the east coast, IMO.

      Also, not the same, but another local tasty item is fried razor clams.

      5 Replies
      1. re: JillO

        JillO-- true. Fried oysters are a great fix. I'm really surprised I can't find whole bellies anywhere here.

        1. re: skibum400

          I give up.
          Is "whole belly" a preparation?; a species?

          1. re: mrnelso

            Whole belly fried clams are just that--clams whose "bellies" have not been removed before frying. Most places that serve "fried clams" are serving only a part of the clam; the clams' bellies have been stripped away. In New England, however, the "fried clams" you're used to eating in Seattle are called "clam strips," while clams whose bellies are intact are called "whole bellies" or simply "fried clams."

            Whole belly clams are vastly superior to clam strips--they have a nuttiness and depth of flavor that can hardly be described. Clam strips--the stuff you get in Seattle--have comparatively little flavor and texture.

            To answer the original poster's question, I haven't seen any whole bellies around Seattle. I suspect that if they are here it'd be an upscale restaurant's take on them--i.e., pricey, small portions, and perhaps with some kind of haute spin on the original. I'd love to be wrong, though.

            1. re: Earl of Sandwich

              Clam strips are usually cut up large tough clams (like east coast quahogs) that are breaded and fried. Those large tough clams are usually chopped up small and used for chowders, so IMO clam strips are not the best way to enjoy fried clams.

              Whole belly clams are smaller whole clams with their bellies intact. If you are lucky, the clams are fairly young and small - the larger they are, the more texture and stronger flavors you get from the belly contents. But they are always more tender and more flavorful than clam strips...and rarely seen outside of New England.

              It really is similar to eating a fried oyster (especially the stronger flavored east coast Virginica oysters), which is why I suggested them as a substitution that is easy to find in the PNW.

            2. re: mrnelso

              You guys are making me drool. Thanks, everyone. Particularly Earl and JillO. If there are any investors out there, can I yell out a request to fund a hot truck for fried clams? Seattle, uhm, *I* am in need of one. I'm dyin' here. Might have to fly back to Boston for a fix... here was my fave. http://www.yelp.com/biz/jt-farnhams-e...

        2. I would also like to know what are full belley Clams? Is it the way they are prepared or is it a large belly clam like a Razor clam?

          1. That would be what we call here in the Northwest as steamer clams. they are whole clams steamed in there own juice just until they pop open. And you are right they are so much better tham clam strips. I do not ect clam strips but I can put a whole kettle of steamer clams away. I will have to try the fried version.

            2 Replies
            1. re: hickdolphin

              See, and that's the funny thing - lots of folks think whole belly clams are gross because ew, you're eating old stomach contents and they can be strongly flavored...yet folks eat steamers and raw clams on the half shell which always include the stomach of the clam. Go figure.

              skibum400, if you start that truck, drive it on down to Portland! ;o)

              Last place I had them back east was Lenny & Joe's in Madison, CT. See the fabulousness: http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/H6iD7p...

              1. re: JillO

                Glad to learn I have a friend down South ;)

            2. I'm still confused. So you could make these out of the kind of clams we have here, like Manilas? You just fry the whole thing? Or do you need a different type of clam that we don't grow here?

              I didn't even know clams had "bellies"! I get the Manilas from Taylor and the clam just looks like one blobby thing, I don't see parts.

              3 Replies
              1. re: christy319

                I'm starting to wonder if I should give it a try.

                The Manila clams seem smaller than what was fried on the East Coast. As steamers, Manila clams are still just as tasty, though. But I don't think they'll have that creamy buttery salty sea taste. You combine that flavor/texture with a fresh-fried extra crispy breading, and you get a combo that makes New England fried clams so divine.

                1. re: skibum400

                  If Manilas were good as fried clams, there'd probably be several clam shacks in Seattle. And, yes, Manilas are smaller than Ipswich.

                  If you haven't already, you should try pan fried razor clams from the Wash. coast when they're in season. They're completely different than New England fried clams, but they're really good.

                2. re: christy319

                  The bellies are easier to see on the bigger clams. When I was growing up on Whidbey Island, we went clam digging most days. We used the little clams, bellies and all, for steamers and we removed the bellies of the larger clams before using in chowder, etc.

                3. Here's a report I did a year and a half ago: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/510104

                  Ipswich clams make the best whole bellied fried clams (and steamers), IMO. But they're not found on the west coast, and quality suffers when they're shipped very far. Even where they're fresh there's a lot of variation in quality. Since moving west from Boston in the '70s, fried clams (pizza, too) are my must-get food when I visit. I never found them in Seattle when we lived there, and have found a couple of places in San Diego that make marginally passable ones.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: beantowntitletown

                    what luck, i'll be in San Diego next week ~ where are the restaurants you found whole belly clams?

                    1. re: elicia

                      Studio Diner in Kearny Mesa, which is open 24/7 & has 'em on the regular menu, is your only option now. I also had 'em @ Nugent's, where they were a daily special, a long time ago, but it looks like Nugent's has closed.

                  2. I am from a little New England town called Braintree (just south of Boston by about 12 miles, you know, the hometown of John Adams, John Quincy Adams, John Hancock, Sylvanus Thayer, etc.), The best fried clams are Quohog clams. The secret for whole belly clams is that the fresh clams are placed in a bucket filled with cornmeal. The clams would digest the cornmeal, and thereby replace stomach contents with the cornmeal. Then they are battered and deep fried. I now live in Seattle Area on the Waterfront on Gamble Bay. The clams out here can not be fried. When I go back to the east coast, I go to the Lobster Hut in downtown Plymouth, right near the big rock. There is also a good restaurant in Halifax MA that serves great fried clams and scallops. Richard on Gamble Bay

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: Sounder

                      There is nothing like a real, whole belly fried clam fried principally in greater Boston. I, too, have tried to find these clams in the West where I live but can only get the best when I return to Boston. My favorite place to go is Kelly's in either Revere Beach or Medford. Last year I was talking to the owner and he told me that getting consistent supply of these Ipswich type clams is getting more and more difficult and he is beginning to fly some clam variety in from Washington to augment his supply. That's all that he would tell me so I don't know the type of clam or even what part of the state it comes from. The guy had no reason to BS me so I accept what he says. Sure wish I knew which clam species, though. In the meantime, since I could never eat a clam strip, I regrettable have to do without this delicacy.

                      1. re: LarryOwen

                        As others above have mentioned, I don't really understand the idea behind a "whole belly" clam as most local clams, fried or otherwise, that I've had have had their bellies intact. That said, Chippy's has "east coast clams" with bellies on their menu.

                        1. re: Lauren

                          I saw that on their menu and was going to inquire if any Chowhounders could confirm if they were in fact, legitimate "whole belly fried clams".

                          I'll have to get over there and check it out.

                          1. re: GreenYoshi

                            Someone at our table ordered them and were definitely fried whole clams with bellies. I'm not sure if that is the same thing as whole belly fried clams...

                            1. re: Lauren

                              Yup. They are legitimate New England Style whole belly fried clams (or at least a respectable NW attempt at it).

                              Obviously not as good as even a mediocre New England clam spot (the clams themselves were a tiny bit gritty and kind of flat tasting), but passable if you need a memory of Ipswich or the Maine coast.

                              And miles ahead of any clam strip in existence.

                            1. re: LarryOwen

                              It is an Ethan Stowell property in Ballard.

                      2. Alas, my friend, as one who has travelled to Seattle, I don't think you'll find them until a Legal Seafood opens up in the area.........unlikely given the outstanding fish offerings out there. I was able to find gorgeous clams in Mill Valley, outside of SFO.......but that is a haul for you. But could be a nice side trip on a business trip down there

                        1. Where you live maybe you'll have to settle for fried geoduck clams.Never had them but here's a recipe. I think they would be tough like conch. Maybe a fritter would be the way to go.


                          1 Reply
                          1. re: zackly

                            Nope. That's more like the clam strips you can get at Ivar's, Spud's and other places of the type.