East Coast Clams—Rolled, Raw & Steamed

Fried Clam Rolls

by Ari Weinzweig

If the lobster roll is the “king of clam shack offerings” then I’d have to assume that a fried clam sandwich must be the queen.  I’ll just have to ask Jasper for his take on the royal rankings but when I talk to him next.  But in the mean time, let’s just say that freshly fried clams are worth clamoring for.  Whether on a plate with a few wedges of lemon and cocktail sauce, or better still (being the sandwich lover that I am) in the form of a clam roll.

In one of those easy to quote facts which I don’t really know to be true (but sounds good anyways so . . . ), fried clams were “invented” by one Lawrence Dexter “Chubby” Woodman in the town of Essex, Massachusetts, on July 3, 1916.  Dexter and his wife Bessie opened up their roadside stop a few years before that.   I don’t know that Mr. Woodman wasn’t the first.  It’s just that, as food writer Francine Maroukian pointed out to me last year, breading, frying and putting shellfish into the center of a hearty sandwich was likely a pretty standard way for East Coast eaters to put a little “meat” on the bones of delicious, but not very filling, fresh seafood.  (You have to have 52,000 oysters to provide the nutritional value of one red deer.)  But hey, I’m happy to have Chubby Woodman get the credit—his family is still running the restaurant and from what everyone tells me running it very well. And it’s still famous for its fried clams. If you’re out that way most definitely go.  In the mean time though you might want to stop over at the RH because Alex and the crew are doing a great version of this fried clam sandwich.  I never ever like to challenge old memories and there’s no need to—I’m not going to in any way imply this sandwich would be better than Woodman’s—they’ve been at it for ninety one years.  We’ve just gotten going.  But given that a trip over to Jackson and Maple is a lot quicker and less costly than making your way out to Massachusetts, stop by and give this one a try.

As per what they do at Woodman’s these are soft-shelled Ipswich clams.  Dipped into milk, then flour and cornmeal on a special bun from the Bakehouse, with a bit of shredded lettuce, served, as they do at Woodman’s with onion rings and homemade tartar sauce.

Though I’m usually not big on eating too quickly, I think this is the sort of thing that you don’t actually want to eat with a fair bit of urgency.  There’s something incredibly excellent about that warm buttered bun, the crispness of the thin coating on the clams, the richness of the clam meat and the slight bit of sea salt to accent it.  This is fried chicken for seafood lovers.  Other than folks (like my family who keep kosher) or those who just don’t like/eat clams, it’s kind of hard for me to imagine not liking this sandwich.  Eat it while it’s hot and enjoy a little taste of east coast summer eating here in Ann Arbor.

Clams on the Half Shell

While we use soft shell clams for frying when it comes to eating them raw it’s Cherrystones we want.   We’re bringing them in all summer as part of all this excellent New England activity.   If you’re a raw bar fan, you’ll be into these—briny, fresh, a bit bolder than most oysters they taste of the ocean.  Jasper White says that they’re, “refreshing and sensual, and they are a true appetizer, meaning they stimulate the appetite . . . “.  Alex loves ‘em as well.  His eyes lit up and he smiled big when we started talking about our serving them on the half shell.  Then he shared memories of digging clams with his feet back when he was a kid.  (Hmmm . . . all I got was a pair of clam diggers to wear and a walk on the beach at Lake Michigan.)  Be sure to stop by for a dozen and a cold beer this summer.

Steamed Clams

A big clam fan favorite on the shore—served with butter, broth, bread, and bunch of napkins!