|How to Eat New England Steamed Clams|
|Eating "steamers" along with lobster is one coastal New Englanders' favorite summer culinary treats.|
About Steamed Clams
In New England, a steamer is a soft-shelled clam (Mya arenaria), called soft-shelled because its calcium shell is less hard and more chalky than the alabaster-like shells of hard-shell clams (Mercenaria mercenaria).
Steamers are sold by weight (a half-pound, a pound, two pounds, etc.), and served in a small bucket (into which you can throw the empty shells after your meal). You'll also get a bowl of "clam broth" (seawater that has had clams steamed in it—even in a restaurant you'll be provided with it) and a bowl of melted butter.
How to Eat a Steamer
Take a clam from the bucket, open it completely, and lift out the meat with your fingers. The "neck" is black and covered with a disgusting wrinkled black membrane. Shuck the membrane off by holding the clam in one hand and slipping the membrane with the other (you pick up the knack for this by about the fifth clam).
Holding the clam by its black "neck," dip it several times in the clam broth. The "broth" is strictly for dipping, by the way, not for sipping. The dipping washes sand off the clam and imparts the tang of the sea.
Dip the clam in the melted butter and pop the whole thing in your mouth.
Hard-shell clams, by the way, are unrelated to soft-shell clams. Hard-shell clams, or quahogs (KO-hogs) are all of the same genus (Mercenaria mercenaria), but are called by different names depending on their size:
Littlenecks = small
Topnecks = medium
Cherrystones = larger
Quahogs = largest
The smaller sizes are often eaten raw on the half-shell with a spritz of lemon or a dab of horseradish. Fist-sized quahogs are usually cut into strips to become fried clams, or pieces to be cooked with potatoes, milk and cream in New England clam chowder.
When you've had your fill of clams, it's on to the next course in your authentic old-time New England Clambake: buttered ears of corn, and finally to the lobsters. Eating a lobster is an art in itself.
—by Tom Brosnahan