Growing up in New England, clam chowder was a tradition. In the summer time, my family would get together for clam bakes in the back yard, and there was always a great big pot of chowder on the table. It’s simple to make, but forgetting to clean your clams properly can ruin the whole batch.

To begin cleaning, place your clams in a bowl of cold water. Rinse and scrub the dirt off the shells. Drain the water and refill your bowl to rinse them again. This should remove the initial layer of dirt.

While the outside of your clams may look clean, the insides are still full of sand. Place them in a bowl and fill it again with cold water, just barely covering the tops of the shells. This time, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of salt into the water (depending on how many clams you’re using). Then sprinkle a layer of cornmeal over the top of the water. If you don’t have cornmeal, you can substitute it with black pepper.

You’ll need to let them soak uncovered for at least an hour. When they’re done soaking, you will probably notice the water getting murky and dirty – This is good! Remember your fresh clams are still alive at this point. They live in saltwater normally, so they’ll gobble up the salt and cornmeal and spit out the sand and dirt.

Drain that water and rinse the clams once more before preparing them. After they finish soaking, many of the clams will stick their necks out of their shells. This is normal. You should be able to gently tap their shells and their necks will retract. If they don’t, the clam is dead and should be thrown away.
Once your clams are cleaned, you’re ready to start shucking (or removing the clam from the shell). In a good pot of chowder, texture is everything. So depending on the type of clam you use, you may only add certain parts of it to your soup:

Quahogs – these are the larger clams normally used in chowders and have larger, tougher bellies that are not right for soup. If you’re using Quahogs, only add the neck and strip.

Steamers – these clams are much smaller and have tender bellies. These will work fine in your chowder. However, because of their size, steamers can be difficult to shuck raw. You can steam them first in a flavorful liquid. Then both the whole clam and the broth can be used in the chowder.

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