Classic Beach Dinner of Steamed Clams I Call Steamers
Traditions are good especially when the traditions are connected to food. Every year we head down to the beach in Avalon, New Jersey and it is our first night tradition to prepare steamed clams, fresh Jersey corn and Caprese Salad with Jersey Beefsteak tomatoes, local basil and fresh mozzarella.
My wife Meg and I were surprised how young the kids were when they started enjoying steamers. I know there was no way I was eating steamers when I was 6 years old but both my girls can eat their body weight in these succulent little clams.
The first few years we would buy a bag of 25 but that quickly grew to a bag of 50 in no time.
Now it takes 100 steamers to satisfy everyone’s appetite and that’s with a couple pieces of corn and a plateful of tomatoes. I’m not sure if it’s the steamers the kids love or the melted butter you dip them into.
It’s my belief that clams, as well as lobster and those giant crab legs, are really just conduits for butter. Of course our fresh local steamers have a sweet flavor all their own with a unique texture but it’s the butter that makes them special.
I need to take a photo of a steamer on a fork coming out of a container of melted butter with a little dripping off the clam.
Jersey Steamers At the Beach
There’s not a lot needed to prepare steamers. A big pot with cover and a steamer basket to keep the steamers off the bottom but if you don’t have one, don’t fret, you can still steam the clams without one.
There are lots of great recipes on the Internet for making fancier steamers. Most of these recipes flavor the broth with onions, garlic, parsley, wine or all of the above and then use the broth to serve with the clams or to dunk in.
The way we serve them cannot be any more basic although I would like to try adding some other ingredients some time.
Note: I have read on other sites (but have not been able to find it on the FDA site) that the FDA recommends you soak your clams for several hours in seawater with one cup of cornmeal added. If you don’t happen to have seawater around, substitute 1/3 cup of coarse kosher salt added to one gallon of water.
I must admit have never taken this step but it probably is a good idea if you are concerned about safety.
Note About These Clams
I get emails all the time from people saying these are not steamers but cherrystone or little neck clams. Technical you are correct.
These clams are hard shell clams called quahogs and depending on their size are called by different names. The smallest is a little neck, then the cherrystone, then the top neck and finally the quahog.
But in south Jersey where I have been vacationing for most of my life, we call the cherrystones and little necks steamers. You go to a restaurant and you’ll find on the menu a “bucket of steamers” and this is what you’ll get.
I know if you are from New England where soft shell steamers are more popular it is sacrilegious to call little necks or cherrystones steamers, but that’s what we call them.
Steamed Clams – Jersey Steamers
- 25 - 100 cherry stone clams or little neck clams
- water for steaming
- butter melted
- Place your stainless steel steamer basket into a large pot big enough to hold your steamer. Add some water to the pot; add your clams and cover. Bring to a boil. Won't take long because there isn't going to be much water in the pot.
- Depending on how many clams you are steaming, it should take about 5-10 minutes for them to open up, exposing the tender little morsels that you will soon be dipping into butter.
- If you are steaming a lot of steamers, you may have to take some of the open ones out of the pot so the rest have a chance to steam and open.
- IMPORTANT: If the clams refuse to open, throw them out. They are no good and not safe to eat. Do not try to force them open. Just get rid of them.
- Remove all the open steamers and transfer to a large serving bowl and serve with small bowls or ramekins of melted butter.
- Don't forget plenty of napkins and a large bowl for the shells.