Fresh Clams – The Complete Guide

Let’s talk about one of our favorite mollusks. CLAMS! We want to take a deep dive into what makes fresh clams good or bad, and then look into the best ways to prepare our favorite bivalves. This blog will look at all sorts of determining factors to help make you a fresh clam expert by the end of it.  Like all other seafoods, and many other types of food, fresh clams are preferable. They have the most flavor, will provide an experience that cant  be a match by frozen, and will have the best results through the cooking process. Before purchasing it is important to know how to tell if clams are bad, how to tell if a clam is alive, and how to prepare raw clams. Knowing each of these will allow you to confidently complete your clam dish safely. 

Fresh Clams in a pile
Fresh clams

How to tell if Clams are Bad

One of the most important factors when selecting food is if it is still good, and safe to eat, or if it has spoiled. Spoiled clams are full of unhealthy bacteria and will cause food poisoning, which at its least will cause hours or days of discomfort and may lead to minor dehydration, and at its worst can lead to hospital stays with extreme illness. If you are uncertain, it is safer to not eat it than to take the chance that it may have already spoiled. 

At A Fish Market

When you go to your local fish market, seafood counter, the clams that are for sale should be alive. This is the only way to ensure they are fresh and safe for consumption. They should not have a smell that is fishy or spoiled, but rather smell of the ocean, of the saltwater or salty air, and the scent should be clean. If you’re  searching for how to tell if clams are good make sure you check the smell first and foremost. 

If you are at home and are checking clams you purchased earlier, then having a bowl of water can help to determine if they have gone bad. Once you have a bowl of water ready, put the clams in the water and check for those that float. Any clams that fall to the bottom are dead, you should not eat those clams. Shells should be checked for cracks, missing pieces of shell, and other damages. 

Frozen Clams

If your clams have been frozen, they will often survive the freezing process and can still be used, but they should be checked after thawing in the same way that any others are checked. Next go through the steps to check that it is alive, and from there you can choose your clams. 

Those that are stored in mesh bags in the tank should have a date of harvest attached on a tag, or you can ask the staff in that area. When they are stored at the market, they will be over ice to keep them fresh. 

How to tell if a Clam is Alive

You may have always been wondering, are clams alive when you buy them? The easiest way to tell if a clam is alive, and therefore able to eat, is to tap on the shell of an open clam and see if it closes. You will instead look for some movement or response to tapping on it. If it closes, then it is still alive and you can eat them. 

If the clam shows no movement when you tap it, or if it stays shut and you can easily open it, these are signs that it is no longer alive and should be thrown away. They should be kept in the fridge only for a short period of time, no more than two days, and cooking them the day you get them is best. 

Dead clams look like one that is alive, so it is not possible to tell just from looking. Often a live clam will be slightly open, however, they may close if they are bumped or touched, making it necessary to check them further before moving forward. When facing the question if clams are open are they bad, the only suitable response is that they may be fine, but you will need to gently tap the edge of the shell and see if it closes. If it remains open, then it has spoiled. 

How to Prepare Raw Clams

Handle raw clams  with care, as a bad clam can spoil the rest of the batch. Begin by disposing of any that are not alive or have damaged shells. You will need to clean them before cooking, both inside and out. Begin with rinsing them under cool water and scrubbing the outside of the shell with a brush. You will need to remove all build-up from the shell, including debris and any barnacles. 

Purge Saltwater

Once the outer of the shells has been cleaned, the clams must be purged in saltwater. To do this place 1/3 of a cup of salt into a bowl or container with 1 gallon of water and allow them to soak for half an hour. This will rinse the sediment from the clams as they pull the water in and expel the sediment with the water. If they seem to still have sand present after the first soak you can repeat this process once or twice more. At the end of the half hour use a slotted spoon to lift them from the water. Place them into a colander while you dump the water. If you see any start to float, you can remove and discard those clams. These are not alive or healthy and you should not eat these. Rinse the clams in the colander under cool water to remove any sediments left and remove the saltwater. 

Cooking Clams

There are many ways to prepare clams. Once you clean and purge they are ready for the final steps. One of the most popular ways to cook them is to steam them. Steamed clams are a delicacy in many places across the world. Simply put them into a steamer or a colander, and ensure you expose to the steam for 2 minutes. Once steam is complete, shake them a few times, at which point they should all be open. Alternatively, cook them in an already hot sauce or liquid. As is often the process with pasta dishes where you add the clams to the sauce for the last few minutes before being poured over the pasta. If you are wondering how to tell if clams are cooked, the answer is simple! The shell opens. If the shell does not open during cooking, the clam should not be eaten. So, here’s how you answer the question, how do you know when clams are done? Make sure the shell is open! 

How to Serve Clams

Once your fresh clams are cooked, there are many delicious ways to serve them. One classic option is to simply serve them with a side of melted butter and lemon wedges. Allowing guests to dip the clams into the butter and squeeze a bit of lemon juice over them for a burst of freshness is a great approach. Another popular method is to serve them in a flavorful broth. Try making one with white wine, garlic, and herbs such as parsley and thyme. This broth is perfect to dip crusty bread into, making for a satisfying and delicious meal. Clams are perfect to add to pasta dishes or chowders. They are perfect for lending their briny flavor to the dish. Insider tip – If you’re making clam chowder, make sure to check out the best things to serve with clam chowder here. With so many options, it’s easy to see why clams are such a beloved ingredient in many kitchens.

Cooked clams served in a while bowl with bread
Prepared clams

Pier Market on PIER 39

Pier Market is the best place to get clam chowder in San Francisco. There are several reasons for this. One of the reasons is the restaurant’s commitment to sourcing only the freshest, highest-quality ingredients for its dishes. The clams in Pier Market’s chowder are sustainable from local fisheries. ensuring that they are both delicious and responsibly harvested. Additionally, the chowder made fresh daily on-site. We using a traditional recipe that we perfect with decades of practice. Customers can taste the care and attention that goes into each bowl. Each bowl is full of tender clams, creamy broth, and chunks of hearty potatoes. Finally, Pier Market’s location on the famous PIER 39 provides the perfect setting for enjoying a warm, comforting bowl of clam chowder while taking in the sights and sounds of the bustling harbor (not to mention, it’s a great place to host a birthday party!). Interested in learning more about the best clam chowder in San Francisco? Check out the origins of clam chowder.