Fried clams are an iconic food, "to New England what barbecue is to the South". They tend to be served at seaside clam shacks (roadside restaurants). Clam rolls are fried clams served in a hot dog bun. Tartar sauce is the usual condiment.
The usual variant in New England is made from whole soft-shell clams, known as "clams with bellies"; these include the clam's gastrointestinal tract and have a fuller flavor. Some restaurants remove the clam's chewy siphon, called the neck.
Fried clams are mentioned as early as 1840, and are listed on an 1865 menu from the Parker House hotel. How exactly they were prepared is unclear; the 1865 menu offers both "oysters—fried" and "oysters—fried in batter", but only "fried clams".
American cookbooks describe several different dishes of fried clams:
- Seasoned clams sautéed in butter. (1850)
- Clams breaded (with egg binding) and sautéed in butter or fat. (1850) (1904)
- Clams in a beaten egg batter, fried in butter, called "clam fritters". (1850) (1904)
The modern deep-fried, breaded version is generally credited to Lawrence Henry "Chubby" Woodman from Essex, Massachusetts. He is said to have created the first batch on July 3, 1916, in his small roadside restaurant, now Woodman's of Essex. One of his specialties was potato chips, so he had large vats for deep-frying. He used the clams, which he had collected himself from the mud flats of the Essex River located close to his home.
Later, Thomas Soffron, of Soffron Brothers Clam Co., based in Ipswich, Massachusetts, created clam strips, which are made from the "foot" of hard-shelled sea clams. He sold these to Howard Johnson's in an exclusive deal, and as the chain expanded, they became popular throughout the country.
Health and dietary considerations
- Leite, David (2007-08-29). "In a ’64 T-Bird, Chasing a Date With a Clam". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-21.
Fried clams are to New England what barbecue is to the South. Like barbecue, the best clams come from small roadside shacks run in pragmatic mom-and-pop style.
- "Sandwich Pride.". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 2007-12-19.
For the fried clam roll, sweet, full-bellied clams are dipped in batter and thrown into the deep fryer. A few minutes later they're laid into a top-loaded hot dog bun with some tartar sauce and a slice of lemon on the side.
- "An Ode to the Clam.". National Public Radio.
During the consumption of that clam roll and the one that followed it ... Daniel Pinkwater longs for a great clam roll from his home in New ...
- "Battered and Fried". Battered and Fried. Archived from the original on 2007-12-07. Retrieved 2007-12-19.
Fried Clam Strip Basket. Lightly Breaded Clam strips Deep Fried & served with Tartar Sauce.
- Parrish, Marlene (October 21, 2007). "A mission to find glorious fried clams.". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2007-12-19.
The clams are dug, shelled every morning and the siphons (or "necks") are cut off. (That's the part that can sometimes be as chewy as a rubber band.) Then they are soaked in evaporated milk, dredged in just a bit of corn and white flours and fried in lard.
- Moskin, Julia (2005-06-13). "Dark Days for the Fried Clam, a Summer Staple.". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-19.
In the raw, a clam consists of a longish muscular foot used for digging; inside the shell is a mass of siphons, stomach and gills, referred to as the belly, which is surrounded by a band of muscle, known as the neck. The best fried clams include both belly and neck, and can be popped into the mouth in one bite.
- "The great clam debate.". Cape Cod Times. Retrieved 2007-12-19.
Fried clams with bellies or without? The age-old question of how to eat these deep-fried bits of summertime goodness may never be answered, but as local clam connoisseurs will tell you, those with guts enough to eat them whole get the benefit of the full flavor. The line between those who do and those who don't seems clearly drawn in geographical terms. Real Cape Codders either eat the bellies or are too ashamed to admit they don't. Clam strips, made popular by the ...
- William E. Burton, "Thaumaturgia", in William E. Burton and Edgar A. Poe, eds., Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, and Monthly American Review, January 1840, p. 70
- Hannah Mary Bouvier Peterson, Martha Read, The National Cookbook, 1856 (preface dated 1850), p. 33
- Charles Fellows, The Culinary Handbook, Chicago, 1904, p. 58
- Jenkins, Nancy (August 21, 2002). "The Deep-Fried Truth About Ipswich Clams". The New York times. Archived from the original on April 17, 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-24.
- Roberts, Steven V. (1983-06-05). "Fare of the Country; Yankee Staple: Clam Fry". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-09-21.
According to Doug Woodman, Chubby's grandson, someone suggested that frying clams might be a good idea.
- "Thomas Soffron, 96, Creator of Clam Strips". New York Times. 2004-02-28. Retrieved 2007-10-23.
Thomas Soffron, a clam digger and entrepreneur who created clam strips, which brought low-priced fried clams to restaurants nationwide, died here last Saturday, The Boston Globe reported. He was 96.
- Sovich, Nina (2004-05-01). "Clam King.". CNN. Retrieved 2007-12-15.
Like many famous Greeks, and not a few New Englanders, Thomas Soffron found his fortune at sea. An immigrant from Calamata, Greece, Soffron invented clam strips: battered and fried slices from the "foot" of hard-shelled sea clams (which held up better when frozen than did the coastal variety). For years Soffron Brothers Clam Co., based in Ipswich, Massachusetts, served as the exclusive supplier of clam strips to the Howard Johnson's restaurant chain, which sold the whole country on this Down East delicacy. Few HoJo's are left, but the clam strip's enduring popularity stands as its creator's legacy. Soffron died on February 21 at age 96 in Ipswich, his hometown.
- Roberts, Steven V. "Shellfish and Fat and Cholesterol". Dr. Gourmet Website. p. 1. Retrieved 2009-05-27.
Fried clams are a problem, not because of the clams but because of the cooking method.