How to Steam Clams

Two Methods:Flavorful steamed clamsButter steamed clams

So, you know how to open clams, if you want to eat them raw. You know how to make clam diggers, too, even though that really has very little to do with the actual animal, the clam. But how on Earth do you make good ol' fashioned steamed clams? For those of us that are squeamish about eating animals that are still alive, or for those of us who just don't like having to pry open clam shells with a blunt knife, there is a solution, and it is quite delicious. All you have to do in this recipe is clean and soak your clams, whip up a white wine sauce, throw the lid on your pan, and steam. Et voilà!


  • 3 pounds/1.3kg clams
  • Water (or white wine)
  • 2 slices onion (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme (optional)
  • 2 sprigs parsley (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (+/-)
  • Unsalted butter
  • Sea salt
  • Optional - other aromatic herbs/spices that you might like to add include fennel and/or bay leaves; a few threads of saffron; finely sliced chili, etc.

Method 1
Flavorful steamed clams

  1. Image titled Steam Clams Step 1
    Inspect the clams. Place clams on a clean, dry towel, and shuffle through them loosely. Discard any that look abnormal or are open, in the outside trash, otherwise their stench will quickly overpower.
  2. Image titled Steam Clams Step 2
    Prepare the clams. Have something like a bucket, tub, or sink in which to soak the clams. The soaking process will clean the clams prior to cooking.
    • Make a weak brine solution – 1/3 cup of non-iodized salt (iodine will kill clams) to one gallon (3.7 liters) of water should work.
    • Soak clams in the brine for about fifteen minutes, to remove all grit from inside and outside the clam. Fresh water works decently as well.
    • Pour the clams into a strainer, and hold under a stream of cold water. Scrub thoroughly with a metal brush.
    • Place clams back on the towel you had them on earlier. Rub them dry gently to remove any final grit.
  3. Image titled Steam Clams Step 3
    Place cleaned clams into a large kettle, wide pan, or wok. For every pound (453g) of clams, add half a cup of water. Layer the clams into the cooking container with the water (or white wine). Cover the cooking container and place over high heat.
    • Here, you can choose to add the aromatic ingredients listed above. They are not needed, but if you prefer more flavorful clams, add the extra ingredients, or even just some of them. Keep in mind that the amounts are for three pounds (1.3kg) of clam, so you may need to add or subtract amounts depending on how many clams you have. If you do chose to add them, this is the moment to do so.
  4. Image titled Steam Clams Step 4
    Steam the clams. Allow the clams enough time to open their shells - this will be indicated by a burst of steam and popped-open shells, anywhere from 2–3 minutes to 5-10 minutes, depending on the type of clams. If some don't open in this time, discard them as they probably were already dead. Cook Stephanie Alexander even suggests giving the ones that do not open another go at steaming because sometimes the clams have a very tight and vigorous hold on the shell (be sure to remove those that have already opened as they're ready).[1]
  5. Image titled Steam Clams Step 5
    Arrange. Remove the open clams from the kettle or other container and place them in a dish, possibly with a small amount of the broth around them. Lemon halves, or quarters, and a few sprinkles of sea salt are lovely accents to the dish.
  6. Image titled Steam Clams Step 6
    Serve hot with melted butter. Bread can be added for mopping up any liquid.

Method 2
Butter steamed clams

  1. Image titled Steam Clams Step 7
    After you have cleaned the clams, set them aside for later.
  2. Image titled Steam Clams Step 8
    Take a large pot and melt half a stick of butter in it. Add just enough water to almost cover the clams.
  3. Image titled Steam Clams Step 9
    Wait for the water and butter mixture to boil. Add 6 to 12 clams, depending on the size.
  4. Image titled Steam Clams Step 10
    Spice the clams to taste. Garlic is recommended.
  5. Image titled Steam Clams Step 11
    Wait for the shells to pop open. Let the clams cook for another 1to 2 minutes.
  6. Image titled Steam Clams Step 12
    Serve on a plate with lemon and/or garlic butter. Eat and enjoy.
    • Red hot sauce is a nice addition too.


  • Garlic makes a delicious flavor to add to clams. Simply mince up very finely some fresh cloves and add either while steaming or on the clams when steamed.
  • Pay very close attention to those that don't open up after steaming, and make sure you remove them all. Do not try to pry them open, even if they don't sound hollow – they could be "mudders": just full of dirt and maybe rotten flesh.
  • Remember, this dish is very salty; clams have a naturally salty taste, (living in or around the ocean), and the added salt makes them more so. If your body has an excess of sodium, or if you just don't like salt, reduce the salt used.
  • Sea salt may be added to the dipping butter for extra taste.
  • Begin by steaming clams if you want to learn to love their taste and texture. Starting off eating them raw, out of the half-shell, is almost never a good idea; that is an acquired taste over time.
  • Clams are found in muddy and sandy estuaries. They are principally found in the Eastern United States and France but given that the word "clam" covers over 500 types of bivalve mollusks, they can be found worldwide.[2] As such, there are many name variations from region to region and country to country. As such, the basic rule is that smaller clams are tender and hence will cook quickly (steaming being one fast method), while medium-sized clams are better braised, stuffed and baked, and large clams do best in dishes that simmer and stew them until soft, such as chowders and soups (they have more meat but less flavor).[3]
  • Littlenecks (the smallest type of hardshell clam in the USA, also known as quahog, lord, baby or Manila clam, depending on the size[4]) are best for this cooking method, since they have the most flavor. In Australia, vongole clams are probably the best for steaming but watch for tiny pearls as these can break your teeth, as well as pipi clams and surf clams.[5] For British clam lovers, look for palourde or carpet-shell clams, which are found around the British coastline and are cultivated in France.[6]


  • Pay close attention to the kettle/pan/wok while steaming the clams – that thing is hot!
  • Never eat clams if you have a seafood allergy.

Things You'll Need

  • Bucket, tub, sink
  • Cleaning water and steaming water
  • A kettle, wide pan, or a wok for steaming
  • Tongs or scooping tool for stirring and collecting clams from the pot

Sources and Citations

  1. Stephanie Alexander, The Cook's Companion, p. 597, (2004), ISBN 978-1-920989-00-2
  2. Larousse Gastronomique, p. 268, (2009), ISBN 978-0-600-62042-6
  3. Larousse Gastronomique, p. 268, (2009), ISBN 978-0-600-62042-6
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