Steamed Littleneck Clams: Summer In A Shell

Steamed littleneck clams.

We will cook many recipes during our time at the beach, but this dish will be served at most of our meals. Appetizer, starter, main dish- no matter, just good stuff. Littleneck clams, with a touch of cured pork, onion, herbs, bacon and wine might be the most tasty, and easy, summer dish we make. And if you have good hardshell clams, you need to make this dish, just invite some friends.

Just a few ingredients.

The key to this dish, like many seasonal recipes is what you don’t add, rather than any extra ingredients or technique. It is very, very simple- and sometimes (most of the time?) simple is good. Brown some tasty cured pork (bacon, pancetta, chorizo if you like spicy, etc.) then add some sweet onion and herbs, add some seasoning to taste and soften the onion. It will smell good. Then add some wine, bring to a boil and add the clams and cover the pot. Shake the pot every few minutes. It will smell even better. You will find yourself popular. Steam the clams until they open (or if uneven size, remove the clams from the pot as they open). Remove from the pot, garnish with lemon and parsley and serve. The whole thing will take 10-15 minutes.

Chop your bacon and onions.

Brown your bacon.

It may almost seem like cop-out to say this is a world-class dish, but it is. There are only so many fresh clams in the world. A good cook lets them shine.  You may want to add some cherry tomatoes, breadcrumbs, or red-pepper flake, but go easy. The clams do the work for you. Briny and meaty, but tender (if you pull them from the heat when they open) the clams are a treat. And they even give you a tasty broth for bread-dipping. Nice.

Add onions and herbs. Soften the onion.

Add wine and clams. Steam the clams.

When the clams open, they are done.

We use littlenecks because they are small enough to cook quickly and are more tender than larger cherrystones and chowder clams. We serve 4-6 clams per person as a starter and 8-12 per person as a main course. Everything cooks in one pot (and you can even serve from the pot, if you like) so this is a great dish when entertaining. So if you have access to some good clams, try this dish out and be ready to make a few new friends…

Steamed Littleneck Clams:

Notes Before You Start:

  • Make sure to use fresh clams and get them from a trusted source. All clams have tags that show when and where they were harvested, if you have any doubts ask to see the tag.
  • Clams open when they are cooked. Remove them from the pot when they open to get tender clams. It is just a bit of extra work.

What You Get: An easy, but incredibly tasty seafood dish that works at almost any meal (except breakfast, I guess).

What You Need: No special equipment required.

How Long? 15-20 minutes. Anytime dish.


(serves 4 as a starter)

  • 2 dozen littleneck clams, rinsed of sand or dirt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (or butter, if you prefer)
  • 2-3 slices of bacon, cut into lardons
  • 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs like thyme or tarragon
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges, for garnish
  • 6-8 sprigs Italian parsley, form garnish


  1. Rinse the clams. Chop the onion and herbs. Slice the bacon into lardons.
  2. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and then add the bacon. Brown the bacon until crisp, about 2-3 minutes. Add the onion, herbs and a touch salt and pepper. Cook until the onion is soft, another 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the wine and allow it to come to a boil, then add the clams. Stir the clams in the wine and then cover. Steam the clams until they open, about 8-10 minutes. If some clams open early, remove them from the pot and place them in a separate bowl. Taste broth and season, as needed. Discard any clams that don’t open.
  4. When clams are done, pour clams and broth to a serving bowl. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley. Serve with crust bread, if you like.

27 thoughts on “Steamed Littleneck Clams: Summer In A Shell

  1. Stunning … post again !!!! Not any big fan of clams, but I’m sure I can use this recipe with mussels – bit fan of combination seafood and bacon.

    • Hi, you can certainly use this recipe with mussels. The only question is wether to include the bacon or not. Pork and clams go well together, while usually we would omit the pork if making mussels- but that is a matter of personal taste, the rest of the recipe will work..

      • Thanks for coming back to me … bacon goes well with scallops and any firm fish, never tried mussels and bacon .. have see what google says.

    • The mesh bag that holds the clams has the tag and the fish monger is supposed to hold onto it even if they display the clams w/out the bag…clams do keep, so if you trust your fish monger check the clams and give them a try..

  2. Oh wow, these look so good. I never make shellfish at home because I’m afraid to buy it. Is Whole Foods a reputable source? I’m ashamed to say I’m really not sure of where to go in my area.

    • Whole Foods usually is a good source and will certainly be able to tell you the provenance of the clams.

      Also Yelp has listings and reviews of fish mongers that are pretty reliable…worth a look…

      And thanks fo reading!

  3. I was not receiving e-mails when you were making new posts, so I haven’t been following your posts for a while. Should be fixed now, so you should hear a bit more from me 🙂

    Great post, I love clams! Have never tried them with pancetta though — doesn’t sound very Italian but perhaps I’ll give it a try anyway!

    • Thanks (glad our emails are working).

      The clams and bacon/pancetta combination is a riff on American versions of clams originally influenced by Portuguese / Azorean dishes that use linguica or other pork to flavor the clam broth….bacon and pancetta are easier to find than linguica- so they became popular ingredients.. (chorizo is another good option if you like a little spice).

  4. Pingback: Vongole with Pancetta « Stefan's Gourmet Blog

Please Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s