Maine Dish: Crazy for Clams

One of the best days of my cooking and eating life just happened around the spring full moon. Full and new moons bring astronomical tides; tides that are both higher and lower than usual. This March, the moon was the closest to the Earth that it has been in 20 years. As a result, the tides were even more pronounced. In our cove on Deer Isle, low tide one morning was a negative 1.9 feet, almost 2 feet lower than the average low tide.


I carefully monitor the tide tables, and days like this are marked in ink on my calendar. With the full moon setting in the west and the first glow of orange sun on the horizon, we were down at shore, complete with rubber boots, blue gloves and wooden hods. The beauty of a low-drain tide is that you can clearly see the clam holes in the mud and sand. I had never seen the tide so low… and so many clams! In a little over an hour of digging, our hods were full of three different varieties: soft-shelled clams, hen clams and razor clams.

Hen clams, or the Atlantic surf clams, are very large, measuring 8 inches or more, and weighing in at often over a pound. Also referred to a chowder clams, they are best used in a chopped form. We pop the shell open and scrape out the raw clam, using them to make chowders, clam cakes and fritters.

Every Downeast family has its favorite recipe for Clam Fritters. This rendition is courtesy of our friend Tricia, an excellent Deer Isle cook and caterer. The key to a perfect clam fritter is the temperature of the fat. Fat that is too hot will burn the outside and not completely cook the middle of the fritter. If the fat is too cool, the fritter will absorb too much grease. Although we enjoy our fritters made with hen clams, any shucked, chopped raw clam will work. Be sure to save the juice.

For several days, my life was packed with clams, clam chowder, clam fritters, razors on the half-shell, clams in garlic sauce, clams casino, baked stuffed clams. We have clams in the freezer to last the season. Such a luxury, right outside my door!

Cheryl Wixson lives and cooks in Stonington. She welcomes food-related questions at [email protected].

Clam Fritters

Makes about 36 fritters

  • 1 egg
  • 3 Tbsps. melted butter
  • 1 cup liquids (usually ¾ cup clam juice and ¼ cup milk)
  • 1½ cups flour
  • 2 tsps. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • fresh pepper to taste
  • 1 cup finely chopped raw clams (use food processor)

In your measuring cup, whisk together the egg, butter and liquids. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk in the liquids and fold in the clams. The batter should be thick…like a thick muffin or cake batter.

Preheat at least 2 inches of oil to 370 degrees. Drop tablespoons of the batter in the oil and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, turning with tongs. Drain on paper towels and taste the first fritter for seasoning. Add more salt and pepper to the batter if necessary. Continue to fry a few fritters at a time until done.

The nutritional analysis of the fritter will vary depending upon how much fat is absorbed in the cooking process.

Nutritional analysis per serving of one fritter without the cooking fat: 35 calories, 1.6 grams protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, 1.3 grams fat (0 grams trans fat), 92 mg. Sodium, less than 1 gram fiber.

Rabbit Hill Tartar Sauce

  • ½ cup chopped capers
  • ½ cup sweet relish
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • sea salt and fresh pepper to taste

In the bowl of your food processor, pulse and chop the capers. Add the sweet relish and mayonnaise and pulse to combine. Season to taste with sea salt and fresh pepper. Makes 1½ cups. Store in a jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Serving size is 1 tablespoon.

Nutritional analysis per tablespoon: 40 calories, less than 1 gram protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, 3.7 grams fat (0 grams trans fat), 159 mg. Sodium, less than 1 gram fiber.


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