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Sandy Steamer Clams

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I tried a search on this and didn't come up with anything, but I'm open to previous threads I somehow missed.....

I've had a hankering for steamer clams lately. Here in Oregon, I believe they're also called Manila clams - little things, and the smaller the better for me, personally.

I ran down to my nearby seafood market and bought a pound, then steamed them up over garlic, fennel, and water. They weren't alive when I bought them, which is standard around here. They all opened up, which was a good sign, but for one of them, the meat was completely packed with sand, and a couple others had some sand in them.

Is this normal for steamers? They were only $5.99 a pound, so I really hesitate to say anything over one clam in many. I'm more curious as to how often this happens.

I burnt out on steamers as a kid, and have just gotten back into them in the last few years, so I don't have alot of history with buying and preparing these as an adult.

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  1. They were alive, I'm sure. Or else they would not have opened.

    I usually get them home, scrub them in cold water, and put them in some salt water in the refridge for an hour or so. And I also put some corn meal. The clams syphone out the sand and either get the sand out or replace it with cornmeal. I have not found them to absorb any significant amount of cornmeal. Even if you do not use the cornmeal, let them set in the refridge (in salt water) and you will see the sand they release.

    1. Your post makes me suspect that you don't have a lot of experience buying & cooking shellfish.
      "Manila" clams & "Steamer" clams are two completely different animals. Manilas are small hard-shell clams, while "Steamers" (aka "Softshells") have a soft, brittle shell. But both are enjoyed steamed. Which ones are you looking for? The softshells are the ones with the long necks that you pull the skin off of before you eat them; Manilas (or "Cherrystones", or "Top Necks", which are also hard shell clams), don't have the neck.

      And regardless of what type of clam you bought, why do you say they "weren't alive" when you bought them?? If they were tightly closed when you bought them & only opened up after cooking, they most certainly WERE alive. And if you had any doubts about their freshness, you shouldn't have bought them. Never buy shellfish that aren't alive (aka tightly closed) unless you enjoy hospital visits or having an intimate relationship with your bathroom.

      While some clams will be sandier than others, soaking them with cornmeal or other libations are really nothing but old wives tales. Just rinse them well under running water & take a mild scrub brush or sponge to the shells. That's where the most of the grit is. Then simply put them in a large pot with about an inch or so of dry white wine & whatever seasonings float your boat (parsley, tarragon, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, etc., etc.). Cover the pot & cook just until the shells start opening well, remove your clams, & serve with melted butter & lemon wedges. If you like, you can strain the broth & serve it alongside for sipping &/or dipping/rinsing in case the clams have some sand/grit inside.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Breezychow

        OK, locally, we call the Manilas "Steamers". They were hardshell. It's the terminology I grew up with, I'm sorry if it doesn't make sense in the rest of the country.

        As I said, I'm out of touch with buying these, since I was turned off by them for so many years, which is why I asked.

        They were tightly closed. In the past, when I've purchased live bivalves, they were slightly opened and closed tightly when tapped, so I gathered that these weren't live. I didn't think to ask, as I've purchased seafood from this shop for many years and never had an issue.

        I served the steaming liquid alongside, but this one clam had sand embedded in the meat, and it wouldn't have rinsed off. I tried the cornmeal thing once in Ecuador and ended up with a miserable case of food poisoning from freshwater mussles (yes, those were definitely live).

        Clearly, I'm coming off as unintelligent and inexperienced here, ...I thought it was a valid question.

        1. re: tracylee

          Not unintelligent at all - don't sweat it.

          I recently bought a few of the same type of clam (call it what you want - I knew what you had bought from the description you gave - though I wouldn't have called it a steamer either) and it also had a LOT of sand "embedded" in the meat. And it was embedded in the meat, you're right.

          The soak in salt water can help (doesn't always for me). When I buy steamers in Maine (true steamers for those who are curious), my Lobster guy requires 2 days notice and he gets them, hangs them in the open water "cages" (called cars in Maine) with the lobsters to help them expel their sand, so the salt water bowl in the fridge is the closest approximation. I don't do the corn meal.

          Don't give up on them - I love clams!

          1. re: thimes

            Thanks! Growing up, we didn't prepare them at home, just in restaurants. Around here, seeing "steamer clams" on the menu and ordering "stemed manila clams" would change things about as much as telling people they're grilling not barbecueing. Regional terms differ.

            And I had been living with a Mainah for the last few years who always picked out and steamed the clams, eating most of them, so maybe he got the grit and didn't say anything, if there was any. It was never mentioned, so maybe it's just something from all the rain we've been getting stirring up the silt.

            I'm not giving up on them. And at least this time I got to save the steaming liquid to dip them and crusty bread in, and I added aromatics to the steaming liquid, neither of which I could get the ex to consider.

        2. re: Breezychow

          After scrubbing and an hour in a salt water bath in a white bowl, you can clearly see the sand/grit that they have spewed out.

        3. When I lived in New England (most of my childhood) the soft shell "longneck" clams were what we called steamers. On the west coast they call the Manila clams steamers in most markets. I don't think either species owns the name "steamer".

          Its not an unintelligent question. You got sand and wondered what to do about it next time. You clearly mention that you were burnt out on steamers as a kid so you probably have not cooked a lot of them as an adult.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Atochabsh

            Thank you, Atochabsh, I hadn't thought of soaking them, since I didn't think they were still alive and the filtering was still in action. I haven't seen live shrimp here, so it didn't occur to me to assume clams would be live.

            Next time I'll throuw them in a salt water bath as soon as I get them home.

            Thanks!

          2. Yep, it's normal for steamers to have sand in them. I usually see steamers served with a little water bath on the side to rinse them off.

            Although there are a lot of theories floating around on how to get the sand or grit out, according to Cook's Illustrated none of the methods work reliably. If you want to avoid sand, go for hard shell clams. Scrub the outside and enjoy!