Everyone jokes about who ate the first oyster; and that is a good question. Oysters are a bit…odd looking, certainly compared with a piece of steak or a carrot. But steamers are even stranger looking. At least an oyster looks like a plain old rock until you open it. Steamers look like aliens in their natural state! But whoever that brave soul was: thank you, thank you, thank you. A clean, perfectly cooked bowl of steamers, or long-neck clams, or piss-clams, or Ipswich-clams, or whatever they are called in your neighborhood, is easily the top of the clam pecking order. Yes, I know, clams don’t have beaks, but steamers have that nose (snout?), so it isn’t a completely tortured metaphor.
I cooked a dozen or so steamers a few nights ago and they were glorious. I don’t know if it is because they were particularly fresh, or I purged them in salt water (this has my vote) for a few hours before cooking, or I cooked them perfectly. What I do know is that they were wonderfully sweet, with just a bit of saltiness. They were firm but tender, certainly not mushy or chewy. They were simply great. And preparing them couldn’t be easier.
I started with a big bowl of salted water. I tried to replicate the salinity of the ocean, so I made it with 10 cups of fresh, cold water and 3 ounces of salt (that makes a 3.5% solution). I dumped the clams into the water and stuck the bowl in the refrigerator for a few hours. The clams purged themselves of most of the mud and sand, so when I cooked them, they were wonderfully clean. And cooking them is simply steaming them in a pot with about a cup of fresh water. I let them steam for a few minutes after the water began to boil. Then, I took the clams out of the pot, poured the liquid into two cups, added a bit of butter in each, cut up a baguette, and feasted. Dipping the bread into the broth is about as decadent as eating can be. This was the first time that I bothered to purge the clams, and I think that it made a big difference. Some recipes call for corn meal, as well as salt water for purging, but I am not sure that would add anything other than a mess.
This is an American dish, specifically from New England, although they are popular as far south as Maryland. Supposedly, the British eat steamers, but I have never seen them there, or for that matter, anywhere in the world but here in America. So, my many international readers, you are out of luck. But the exchange rate is great for you, so zip over here for a bowl of some fantastic American steamers — you won’t be sorry.