Fried Steamer Clams: An easy at-home way to enjoy this essential East Coast appetizer

If you can’t make your way to the Maritimes, John Bil’s recipe is the next best thing.

If you can’t make your way to the Maritimes, John Bil’s recipe is the next best thing

(Photo credit: Rick O'Brien)

If you’ve visited any of the vast array of seafood restaurants sprinkled across the Maritimes, chances are you’ve ordered the deep fried steamer clams — or at least gazed at them longingly from a nearby table. But while the appetizer is a staple at most East Coast establishments, it’s not a dish that many of us make in our own homes. That all changes with this recipe by John Bil, the late, great seafood aficionado and Toronto restaurateur, from his new, posthumously-released cookbook Ship to Shore: Straight Talk from the Seafood Counter. With Bil’s easy approach and tips for cooking those clams juuuust right, it’s bound to be your new go-to when craving a little battered and fried goodness.

Fried Steamer Clams

By John Bil

Outside of lobster rolls, the number-one menu item people look for when they visit the Maritimes is fried clams. Sadly, nowadays, most places serve a pre-battered catastrophe called a “slam strip,” which consists of surf clams, breaded and frozen somewhere on Earth, shipped by a large multinational distributor, and fried with no care or concern until they vaguely resemble what might have once been a clam. Truly great fried clams require the right clam, the right batter, and the right amount of respect. With this recipe, you can make your own.


  • 2 lbs live steamer (soft-shell) clams, purged thoroughly
  • ⅔ cup all-purpose flour
  • ⅔ cup fine corn flour
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¾ cup + 5 tsp light-flavoured beer or soda water
  • 0.5 oz picked fresh thyme leaves
  • 12 cups vegetable oil


Fill a large pot with a tight-fitting lid with ½ inch of water. Cover with the lid and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water starts to boil, carefully place all clams in the pot. Cover and cook until clams have opened widely and firmed up a bit, about 10 minutes. Discard any clams that didn’t open. Strain cooking liquid, let cool, and save for another day; it will keep for at least 4 days in the fridge (steamer “clam juice” is the most versatile and delicious clam juice — perfect for chowders and pasta dishes).

Using your fingers, pluck out the clam meat. Pull off the “socks” (the black skin covering the siphons) and discard. Place clams on a baking sheet lined with paper towel and set aside to dry until ready to use.

In a shallow bowl, combine flours, baking powder, and salt. Slowly whisk in beer or soda and mix just until smooth (don’t overmix, as you want to retain some of the fizziness). Stir in thyme. Set aside.

In a medium pot, heat vegetable oil to 350°F.

Using a fork, dip clams, one by one, first into the batter and then into the hot oil. Work in small batches, perhaps 6 clams at a time. Fry each batch for 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer fried clams to a platter lined in paper towel. Repeat until all clams have been cooked.

Serve hot, with lemon.

Excerpted from Ship to Shore: Straight Talk from the Seafood Counter, copyright © 2018 by John Bil. Reproduced with permission from House of Anansi Press, Toronto.

Servings: Makes 4 servings as an appetizer


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