Ready to make the best steamed clams?! This recipe & tutorial will guide you through everything you need to know. Which clams to use? How to clean them? And most of all, how to prepare them Mediterranean-style in my delicious white wine broth with onions, garlic, bell peppers and fresh herbs!
Watch the video below for how to cook clams.
I grew up eating all kinds of seafood including clams, which I ate in all sizes--cold or hot. The brothy, steamy ones proved to be my favorite, especially with an added pop of spice. And that's how I make them for my family today.
My steamed clams recipe is simple, but loaded with Mediterranean flavors, thanks to a bright white wine broth with onions, garlic, bell peppers, and a couple of spices (including a bit of smoked paprika)!
Let's first cover a few questions you may have about preparing and cooking clams at home.
Which kind of clams to use?
There are quite a few varieties out there. Which kind to buy depends on how you plan to cook your clams. But keep in mind, the larger they are, the tougher and chewier they can get once cooked.
In this recipe, I'm using littleneck clams, also known as steamer clams or steamers, the smallest and sweetest of hardshell clams (about 7 to 10 clams per pound). And luckily, they're quite available at a fairly affordable price in most grocery stores (if you don't see them right away, stop by the fish counter and ask someone).
How do you cook fresh clams in the shell?
Littleneck clams in the shell are great for steaming, grilling, or even eating raw if you like. First you need to clean them very well (I show you how below), then you can simply steam them in a tasty broth or sauce of your choice.
Some people like something more like a chowder with melted butter, but in this recipe, the steamers are cooked in a Mediterranean-style sauce with white wine, onions, garlic, bell peppers, tomatoes.
Should clams be soaked before cooking?
To me, cooking them is the easy part, but the most important thing to do first is to clean your clams very well because chewing on sand will definitely diminish the experience. So the answer is YES, you should soak them before cooking. Essentially, you will submerge them in cool slated water and let them soak to help them purge any sand. Then, once soaked, be sure to scrub them well using unsalted water or cool running water.
There are a couple of different methods to clean your steamers well, so let me share more about that...
How to clean clams?
There are several ways to clean your steamers, I tried two of them with great success:
- Three-Time soak (up to 1 hour) + scrub. You'll want to prepare 3 large bowls of cool water. Add salt to only 2 of the bowls (⅓ cup of kosher salt to 1 gallon of water), leaving the third bowl of water unsalted. Place the clams in the first bowl of salted water and let them soak for about 20 minutes. Transfer to the second bowl of salted water and let them soak another 20 minutes. Use a brush to scrub them clean, then let them soak in the third bowl of water (unsalted this time) for another 20 minutes. (note: it helps to add some ice to the water bowls to keep them cool water; alternatively, you can place the bowls in the fridge). They should be squeaky clean!
- Quick 30-minute soak + scrub. Most clams you'll find at the grocery store sat in tanks after they've been harvested, so they've had a chance to "purge" much of the sand. Still, a little soaking is needed. Try soaking the clams in a large bowl of cool salted water (again, ⅓ cup of salt to 1 gallon of water). After soaking, give them a good scrub with a stiff brush under cool running water. If they feel good to you, they're likely okay to go.
How long does it take to steam clams?
Steamer clams will cook quickly. Once you nestle them into the boiling liquid, it will take somewhere between 7 to 10 minutes for the shells to open up (cover the pot). Watch for the shells to open up, that is when your steamers are ready.
How to steam clams
Once cleaned, cooking fresh clams in the shell is simple. And you do not need a steamer, just a large Dutch oven or cooking pot with a lid:
- Make a broth or cooking liquid. The liquid or broth in which the clams steam is your opportunity to add so much flavor. In my recipe, I go the Mediterranean route by creating a light white wine broth flavored with onions, garlic, bell peppers, tomatoes, fresh herbs and a trio of warm spices--cumin, smoked paprika, and chile pepper flakes (I used Aleppo-style pepper which is on the sweeter side but still provides a little kick).
- Steam the clams. And DO NOT overcook them! Once the broth is ready, nestle the steamers in. Cover and let cook over medium heat until they open up (This will take anywhere from 7 to 10 minutes). Clams will let you know when they're ready; their shells will simply open. Watch for that and do not overcook them or they're turn too chewy and rubbery.
Serve the cooked clams immediately in dinner bowls and ladle enough of the white wine broth on top. Make sure to have plenty of your favorite crusty bread to dunk in the broth (although my girls like to add little Lebanese rice in their clam soup).
For eating utensils, I typically set out both a small seafood fork (or a small fork) and a spoon for the broth.
Once you've mastered steamed clams, be sure to check out my Steamed Mussels recipe for more tender, tasty morsels of goodness! You can also take your stew game to a whole new level with Cioppino, which features clams, mussels and other seafood favorites.
How do you eat them?
I was talking to a friend about this recipe, and to my surprise, she had not once had steamer clams and wondered how to actually eat them.
For steamed littleneck clams, when cooked properly, the shell should be nice and open (or at least more than halfway there), hold it with one hand and using a seafood fork (or a regular small fork if that's all you have), pull it out. Remember, any clams that have not opened should not be eaten.
Cooking tools you'll need
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Mediterranean-Style Steamed Clams Recipe
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion chopped
- ½ green pepper cored and chopped (about ½ cup chopped green pepper)
- ½ red pepper cored and chopped (about ½ cup chopped red pepper)
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- Salt and pepper
- 2 ripe tomatoes chopped
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes I used Aleppo pepper, more to your liking
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 ½ cup water
- 3 pounds littleneck clams
- 1 green onion trimmed and chopped (both white and green parts)
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh parsley
- Sort through clams and discard any already open ones that won't close.
- Prepare three large bowls, fill two of them with cool water and add a good amount of salt to each (⅓ cup of salt to 1 gallon of water). Fill the third bowl with water but NO salt this time.
- Clean the clams. Put the clams in the first bowl of cool salted water and set them aside for 20 minutes or so. Transfer the clams to the second bowl, making sure to discard any clams that are open ( and, of course, discard the dirty water from the first bowl). Set aside for another 20 minutes or so. Using a small brush, scrub the clams clean and transfer them to the last bowl of unsalted water. Allow them another 20 minutes or so. Transfer the clean clams to a tray and cover with a damp towel. (It helps to add some ice to the water bowls to keep them cool water; alternatively, you can place the bowls in the fridge) (see notes for a shortcut)
- Make the white wine broth. In a large Dutch oven heat ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add the onions, peppers, and garlic. Season with kosher salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes or so, tossing regularly and making sure the garlic does not burn. (See note, if you want to add Spanish choriz)
- Stir in the tomatoes and add the cumin, paprika and red pepper flakes (or Aleppo pepper). Pour in the white wine and water. Raise the heat to bring the liquid to a gentle boil. Cook for a few minutes until the tomatoes soften a bit (about 5 to 7 minutes). Add another pinch of salt, if needed.
- Steam the clams in the white wine sauce. Lower the heat back to medium and add the clams. Cover with a lid and cook until the majority of the clams are open (anywhere from 7 to 10 minutes) Discard any clams that are still closed.
- Turn the heat off. Add the green onion and parsley.
- Serve immediately in bowls with a side of your favorite crusty bread.
- Shortcut for cleaning clams: If you don't have the time for soaking the clams three times, watch the clams after the first soak and give them a good scrub under cool running water. If they feel good to you at this point, you can proceed with cooking.
- Cooking Tip: Do not overcook the clams, they are ready when the majority have opened up.
- Variation with Spanish Chorizo: If you want to add something more, Spanish chorizo will work well here (a few ounces, thinly sliced). You can brown the chorizo up a bit before you add the onions, garlic and peppers (Step 4) and proceed from there.
- Leftovers & Storage: store cooked clams in the fridge in a tight-lid container for 2 to 4 days. Warm over low heat.
- Visit Our Shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients including extra virgin olive oils and spices used in this recipe.