My husband was born in Boston and spent the first few years of his life eating all the regional specialties from Lobster Rolls to New England Clam Chowder on the regular.
So, when he moved to California, he had opinions about shellfish from when to eat it and how to eat it be it a basket of fried clam bellies or that famous chowder.
Corn And Potato Chowder-ed Clams
Nothing against New England Clam Chowder but I didn’t grow up in the crazy cold winters of New England, so I just don’t need the rib-sticking heaviness of classic clam chowder. The creative cook part of me has always wanted all the chowders — as in, corn, clam, and potato — at once. So I decided to do just that when I developed this Corn and Potato Chowder-ed Clams for our friends at California Grown.
My solution is this recipe that’s lighter and healthier and the key is a method I call “chowdering” clams. It’s a term I made up so it means nothing more than this definition that I just fabricated: verb, to cover a dish with chowder-like ingredients.
Okay, yes, you’re technically not making anything like a chowder but these Corn Chowder-ed Clams are like the California version of classic chowder! You make them by combining crisped bacon, a corn and cream reduction, a buttery base of sweet onions and potatoes, some minerally California white wine, and, of course, lots of clams.
The result is a twist on steamed clams with a sauce that tastes like all the best chowders combined. The only thing missing is a glass of chilled white wine to go with it!
The Keys To This Recipe
Now let’s dive into the recipe itself! Essentially this recipe is an amped-up version of simple steam clams. In other words, the base technique is simply to saute a bunch of flavored goodies like butter, onions, garlic, and white wine, bring it all to a boil then add the clams and steam them until they all open.
But, if I had to pinpoint, I’d say the keys to this dish are the quality dairy, the seasonal produce, and, of course, the clams so let’s get into them all.
First the dairy: you want to use really great quality unsalted butter and the best heavy cream you can find because those couple of ingredients will add loads of flavor!
Here in California, we have access to a ton of quality dairy, and here’s a little more about it.
California leads the nation in sustainable dairy production and is number one in milk, ice cream, butter, nonfat dry milk and whey protein concentrate and is the second largest producer of cheese and yogurt!
To make sure you’re getting food made with 100% real California milk, look for the Real California Milk seal when you’re at the store. That seal means that the product is certified and has been made with 100% Real California Milk from California farm families. A choice you can feel great about since 99% of those California dairies are family owned!
As for the seasonal produce, well, you want in-season corn so that it’s extra sweet and delicious. Also, we love using the peewee potatoes in this recipe (aka marble potatoes) as they’re smaller than baby potatoes and they’re all over this time of year here in California. You could mix it up and add in other seasonal produce from kale or spinach in the winter to peas or asparagus in the Spring. To help you do just that, check out this list of what’s in season in California.
Make Almost All Of It Ahead Of Time!
There are a few steps to this dish but once you make it a few times, it will become second nature. Also, you can do quite a bit of the work ahead of time — the way we make it whenever we are cooking this recipe for company.
Things you can do ahead include soaking the clams, milking the corn, reducing the cream, crisping the bacon, and making the chowder base. Simply keep it all stored separately (i.e. the bacon, the cream, and the corn are all in a separate container) in the refrigerator until you’re ready to finish cooking the recipe.
T.L.D.R.: You can make the recipe up to the last step (“To Cook The Clams”) 1 day ahead of time!
Be Sure To Save The Corn Cobs
In this recipe the corn is used in two ways: the cobs are “milked” so that the cobs and that “milk” add flavor to the sauce then the kernels are added to the final dish. You can make this with frozen or canned corn kernels in a pinch. However, opt for fresh corn on the cob when you can as it will help you get a lot of sweet corn flavor in the final dish.
Eating Shellfish In Month With The Letter “R”
My French stepmother lives by the rule that you should only eat shellfish — be it oysters or clams — during months that end in the letter “r.” There is and isn’t truth to this. Outside of this time of year, there is a risk of red algae blooms and it’s often when shellfish are reproducing and when they tend to not be as tasty.
Now that we have the majority of our shellfish commercially farmed, these issues are closely monitored and, in turn, you can generally eat shellfish throughout the year.
Store The Clams Correctly
You really want to buy shellfish within about 12 to 18 hours of when you plan to serve and eat them (and don’t store them any more than 48 hours). As soon as you get home from the store, do these few steps:
- Discard any clams with cracked or otherwise damaged shells
- Tap on any opened clam shells lightly. If they close quickly, they’re alive and well. If not, you’ll want to discard them. (Also be sure to do this right before you cook them btw!) If you want to double-check their status, put them in water, if they float, they’re dead.
- The clams should have no offputting odor. They should have a minerally, briny smell that reminds you of a nice ocean breeze!
- To store them, place the clams in a colander set inside a dish (with a rim that can catch any melting water) then cover with a damp towel and a few pieces of ice or an ice pack. Don’t put ice directly on the shellfish as it could kill them btw. Finally, store the chilled clams in the coldest part of your fridge, which is usually the back of the bottom shelf.
How To Clean Clams
To make sure we’re on the same page, we’re using hard-shell (as opposed to soft-shelled clams like razor clams or steamers) clams in this recipe. As a general rule, hard shell clams don’t hold onto as much sand as the softer-shelled clams. And, since the majority of clams are farm-raised these days, they tend to be cleaner than in the past.
Even so, there are a few steps you want to take so you don’t have a gritty bite when you eat this dish:
- Scrub the clams with a hard-bristled brush to remove anything lodged on their shells
- Place the clams in salted water (it should taste like seawater) and let them sit in that for 20 minutes to an hour (even up to overnight for the razor or steamer clams) so they expel any sand they’re holding onto.
What To Serve With Steamed Clams
A great steamed clams recipe doesn’t need much more than some crusty bread and a great glass of wine.
However, we also like serving it with a side salad and a classic dessert. ICYMI, we created this recipe as a part of a menu for our virtual #CookingClub so you can join us over there to cook this along with us!
Corn And Potato Chowder-ed Clams Recipe
- 5 pounds littleneck clams (about 24 clams)
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 3 ears corn shucked
- 4 ounces bacon slices cut into squares the size of postage stamps
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 sweet onion or yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/3 cups)
- kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound baby potatoes (if you can only find larger baby potatoes, go ahead and halve them)
- 6 garlic cloves thinly sliced
- 1 cup dry white wine such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc
- 1 cup finely chopped flat Italian parsley
- Clean The Clams: Place the clams in salted cold water and let sit for 10 to 20 minutes (or even up to overnight). Once the clams have soaked, wash and scrub the clams thoroughly. Tap on all any opened clam shells to make sure they're still alive. Discard any clams that don't close.
- Milk The Corn: Meanwhile, remove the corn kernels from the corn cobs then milk the corn. To milk the corn, place the end of a cob on a cutting board and scrape along the length of the cob with the back of a butter knife. As you do that a starchy, sweet "milk" will come out, which will add a lot of flavor to this dish!
- Reduce The Cream: Combine the cream, the corn "milk," and milked corn cobs (halved if needed to fit in the pan) in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until reduced by 1/3 (to about 1/2 cup), about 15 minutes total. Once the cream is reduced, remove from heat, discard the corn cobs (but not the corn "milk"), and set the reduced cream aside until ready to use.
- Crisp The Bacon: Meanwhile, add the bacon to a Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid and heat over medium heat. Cook uncovered until bacon is crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate and discard all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat.Alternatively, place the bacon strips in the oven and 400°F and cook until crisp then crumble it into the final dish. We prefer it this way because it makes for more even bacon flavor but either way works!
- Make The "Chowder" Base: Return the pot with the 1 tablespoon of bacon fat to the stove over medium heat. Add the butter, onion, add some freshly ground black pepper, and cook until translucent about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and potatoes cook until the potatoes just start to soften, about 10 minutes.
- Steam The Clams: Stir in the wine, bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the clams to pot (facing upward if possible) and cook until clams open, about 8 to 12 minutes. Discard any clams that do not open and remove clams to serving bowls.
- Finish The Dish: Stir the reserved corn kernels into the pot and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the parsley and reduced cream (without the corn cobs) and taste. Season the juices in the pan with salt and pepper as desired. Spoon the potatoes, corn, and sauce over the clams, top with the reserved bacon, and serve immediately.