Want to try out clams but don’t know how they taste? Then we have the ultimate guide for you!
What do clams taste like? Clams have a salty, fishy flavor with a soft or slimy texture. Some people also compare it to the flavor of oysters, shrimp, and other shellfish. Clams can be prepared in multiple ways and can also be paired with seasonings and condiments to make them even more delicious.
Read below to learn more about clams, their characteristics, the best way to eat them, and some considerations!
What Are Clams?
Clams are a type of burrowing marine mollusk.
They are essentially an invertebrate species that consist of a soft and segmented body with a shell around them.
On the surface, clams may not look that impressive, but they are truly one of the most magnificent creatures of the sea.
Clams have naturally evolved to develop a hard shell to protect their relatively soft and tender insides. While they do share some anatomical features with other marine life, they function using interesting and unique mechanics!
Clams consist mainly of a combination of two half-shells and muscles — and the muscles are what most people are after when it comes to their culinary use.
These muscles, also referred to as pseudopods or “feet,” help the clam move about by extending from the shell and pushing the ground under.
Clams are usually found around oceanic and specialized water bodies and can be harvested in bulk using tools that are designed to trap them without damaging their shell.
Characteristics Of Clams
If you’re debating ordering clams at a restaurant, or just curious about what you might be getting yourself into when trying a new recipe, here are some of the key characteristics of clams.
Raw clams have a salty, slightly brine-y, but thoroughly fishy flavor. They are usually compared to a nutty walnut oil with just a tad bit of sweet and salty flavor notes.
But not all clams are eaten raw!
Smaller varieties like Littlenecks and Cherrystones are reserved for eating raw as some bigger clams may have a tougher texture.
The beauty of clams is that they also play well with other ingredients. So, you can use an assortment of condiments or even simple toppings to get the most out of their oceanic flavor.
Cooked clams are usually seasoned with citrusy ingredients like lemon juice, or they can also go well with a dab of hot sauce — and even butter!
In either case, you will get a delicious taste of the ocean and a distinctly fish-like flavor that some compare to some shellfish.
Some people even prefer to eat them raw (more on this below), but for safety and quality reasons, we highly recommend that you try them cooked, especially if you don’t have experience eating raw clams.
Here are some of the most popular ways to cook clams:
- Cooked clams can taste the same as raw clams, but they do lose some of that freshness. The good news is that they retain most of their core flavor notes! They can also take on flavors from any cooking medium, especially if they are paired with herbs.
- Boiled clams are known to have the most “oceanic” flavor because they are cooked in slightly salted water. The saltwater plays off the natural fishy flavors and accentuates the overall saltiness of the clams.
- Fried clams taste more like fried fish — they will still have the same fishy flavor as other clams, but with a bit of flavor from the oil and seasonings.
They might have a tough exterior, but clams are total softies on the inside!
As we mentioned, the inside of a clam consists of a combination of muscles: some muscles help keep the clam shut, while others act as the “foot” or “tongue” of the clam, which sits in the center along with other small anatomical parts.
Once you shuck (open) the clam by cutting through the adductor muscles, the shell releases, leaving behind a half-shell with the “meat” or muscle in the center.
All of this visible muscle is edible and it doesn’t take much heat to cook it either!
Raw clams are very lightly chewy, slightly slimy, but thoroughly tender. On the other hand, cooked clams retain their tenderness but offer a slightly different mouthfeel.
As clams cook, they can take on varying textures. For example, they can firm up but still be deliciously chewy. But if overcooked, they can also take on a firmer and more rubbery texture.
Clams are eaten in a wide variety of ways and are used in many delicious recipes.
They are usually served raw in most old-school seafood restaurants, where they are presented on a half-shell (similar to raw oysters).
These clams are known to be the freshest since they are usually shucked and then immediately served with a range of sides or seasonings.
Clams can also be used in simple pasta recipes where you would simply sauté them in onion, garlic, and chilies before quickly boiling them in white wine. They are then added on top of pasta and then topped with clam broth!
In the same way, clams can also be fried, steamed, and more! And who hasn’t heard of clam chowder? Many people consider canned clams a staple item in their pantries so that they can easily whip up clam linguine or chowder.
The uses for clams are mostly limited to your imagination since they can be used in virtually any recipe that calls for a pleasant seafood flavor!
How Long Are Clams Alive?
Most people may not know this but clams are technically alive up until they are shucked.
That’s right — clams can stay alive even when they are out of the water! They do this by literally “clamming up” where they force themselves shut as soon as they sense danger or when they are out of the water.
What has this got to do with their flavor? Well, it keeps them fresh for human consumption!
Most clam species can stay fresh and retain their flavor for up to 1 week — and they can also be conveniently stored in the fridge.
The reason why they aren’t stored in the freezer is, well, because they are kinda still alive.
If you do freeze them, they will die within the hour — while you may get a longer shelf life, they will undoubtedly not taste great and may even start to grow bacteria as they thaw!
Most people claim that clams taste better raw, but you should know that these shellfish can also carry dangerous pathogens.
Some clams can be contaminated with bacteria that live off the shellfish.
These bacterial colonies may not be enough to kill the clam, but as soon as they enter a bio-diverse environment, like that of humans, they can multiply rapidly and make you ill.
So, unless the clams are collected from authentic and protected sources, you should avoid eating raw clams!
How Do You Know If Clams Are Bad?
Before cooking your clams, you must first identify the good ones from the bad ones. Remember: bad clams are dead and can contain dangerous bacteria!
The best way to know whether a clam is alive or dead is to tap it using another clam. If the clam remains shut, then it is alive — if it doesn’t respond to the stimulus and remains open, then it is dead!
Don’t worry if you get a few dead clams in a fresh batch. Just make sure that you discard the ones that are bad because they will not provide a great flavor and will likely make you ill.
How To Store Clams For Better Flavor
To get the most out of their freshness, quality, and safety, we recommend that you store the clams using a few mandatory storage tips.
Clams can survive in damp environments — they don’t need to be submerged to thrive. In fact, it is not recommended that you store the clams underwater at all!
This is because clams require oxygen to survive, so keeping them in an enclosed and water-filled container will kill them within a short time. Do not store the clams in a plastic container or they will die and go bad!
Here is the best way to store fresh clams:
- Place the clams in a large bowl and top them with a wet towel.
- Keep the bowl in the fridge at 40°F.
- Ideally, consume the clams within 1-2 days for the best flavor, but don’t keep them in the fridge for more than a week!
How To Open Clams
Before we get into the recipes for cooking clams, you must learn how to open them up!
Opening clams may sound easy, but it isn’t as straightforward as you might think. Remember the adductor muscles we mentioned above? Well, these muscles hold the clam shut extremely well.
In fact, you will require a specialized tool called a “shucking” knife to pry open the shell and cut through the muscles to release it.
Here is how to open fresh clams:
- After washing the clams, hold one firmly inside your palm in a way that you can see the separating line between both halves of the shell.
- Very carefully insert the sharp end of the shucking knife into this faint gap, then push the back of the knife (blunt side) inwards like you would if you clench your fist. This motion will insert the knife into the gap — but don’t put it all in just yet!
- You might be tempted to fully insert the knife, but while this would open the shell, it will also destroy the shape of the meat inside. Instead, use the pointed top of the knife to carefully cut the two adductor muscles to release the shell.
- After cutting the muscles, lift the shell by twisting the knife and then using your fingers to cut open or break the top half of the shell. Voila — the clam is open!
- If you find some clam meat on the top shell, then simply cut around it to release it. We also recommend making two more cuts around the bottom shell to release all of the muscle. You can also flip the meat to make it more presentable!
How To Cook Clams
There are a few different preparation techniques to get the most out of the flavor and texture of your clams.
We will be focusing on three popular preparation methods:
Boiling clams is perhaps the easiest way to cook them, and it also happens to be a great way to get the most out of their natural flavor, too!
The easiest way to tell when the clams are done cooking is when they open up! As the clams render, they relax and release their hold which opens up the shells.
- Bring a pot to boil and then add flavorful seasonings like white wine, pepper, and garlic — or keep it simple by simply adding a bit of salt.
- As the water is boiling, drop in the clams and cook for about 8-10 minutes.
- Remove the clams from the heat and drain.
- Discard the clams that did not open during the boiling process because they are most likely already dead and have spoiled.
This same method can also be used when steaming clams!
Frying clams is an excellent way to get a flavor that is similar to fish and chips recipes.
Fried clams offer a delicious, fried-and-fishy flavor along with a firm but very enjoyable texture!
For this method, you will need to use two cooking methods: first, we will boil the clams until they open, then we will fry just the meat.
- Begin by boiling the clams until most of them open — you must take the pot off the heat as soon as a majority of the clams have opened to prevent them from overcooking.
- Drain the clams and then let them rest for a few minutes.
- Open the shells, extract the meat, and set the collected meat aside.
- Heat oil to around 365°F and then dip the meat in a batter of your choice. You can either go with a simple tempura batter, or you can also use your go-to coating recipe.
- Dip the coated clams in the hot oil and cook for about 1 minute.
- Drain and serve with a side of sweet chili, lemon wedge, or any other condiment of your liking.
Consuming clams raw is risky (see above), but there are a few ways that you can (safely) get the most out of their flavor.
- Thoroughly clean the clams with water and check to see if they are alive (use the same technique as described above).
- Tap the clam or run your finger through its sides to see if it responds to the stimulus — please discard any clams that you think are dead!
- Open up the fresh clams and keep the meat in the half shell to serve.
Now, there are multiple ways you can serve the clams in this state.
You can either just enjoy them on their own or pair them with a homemade mignonette sauce — this is a traditional condiment made from a combination of shallots, vinegar, and freshly cracked peppercorns.
We don’t recommend serving the clams with more brine-y ingredients like soy sauce, but you can use a cocktail sauce to balance out the natural fishy and salty flavors.
Clams may seem tricky to cook and eat, but they are one of the easiest and most delicious shellfish in the ocean!
Now that you know what clams taste like and how to cook them, here are some related questions.
Do clams taste like shrimp or oysters?
Clams do share a lot of flavor points with oysters and shrimp, but they are known to be the saltiest option of the group.
Clams have a more pronounced oceanic, fishy and salty flavor compared to oysters and shrimp — however, shrimps, oysters, and clams can taste the same when cooked because of their ability to adapt to ingredients.
Can you smoke clams?
Yes, there are a lot of recipes for smoked clams. Some recipes may even require you to brine the clam meat before smoking it overnight to inject a delicious smoky and umami-laden flavor.
You can also purchase canned smoked clams for an easier option.
What do bad clams taste like?
Clams that have gone bad will have an unpleasant and overpowering flavor. They will not taste fresh and will not have that unique oceanic flavor. Instead, they will be intensely fishy and may take on a sour or bitter flavor too.
Always taste clam meat before swallowing it! If you come across a bad clam, just spit it out and rinse your mouth.