The “small” order of fried clams at Jim’s Clam Shack in Falmouth, MA.
Photo Credit : Mike Urban
New England fried clams were likely invented about one hundred years ago in Essex, Massachusetts, by Lawrence “Chubby” Woodman. Ever since then, thousands of New England eateries (especially the best clam shacks) have played with recipes and cooking methods in an attempt to come up with the best. Yankee contributor Mike Urban, author of Clam Shacks (Cider Mill Press, 2011), has sampled these tasty fried morsels at dozens of New England establishments. Here are his top ten places to get the best fried clams in New England!
This understated food stand on Maine’s Blue Hill peninsula has been frying up seafood since the 1940s, and it shows in its perfectly cooked, locally sourced, fried whole-belly clams. The key to its success seems to lie in the simplicity and honesty of the cooking, with recipes dating back several decades. Seven years ago, the shack earned a James Beard Foundation America’s Classics award, a testament to the sincerity of its offerings — especially its fried clams.
This place still holds the crown for best fried clams in New England. Each hand-picked batch of clams initially goes through an evaporated-milk wash, followed by a coating of corn flour and white pastry flour, then is fried briefly once, then again until crisp and crunchy outside, firm and chewy inside. Add to this the twice-daily changing of the cooking oil, and you have a seemingly unbeatable formula for fried clams cooked up the way they should be.
The secret to Farnham’s enduring popularity among fried clam aficionados is its careful selection of fresh whole-belly clams and its combination of vegetable oil and animal fat in its deep fryers. The finished product comes out tender and flaky, chewy and crunchy all at the same time. Local sourcing from nearby fertile clam beds also helps.
The Woodman family claims that the fried clam was invented here nearly a century ago, and the Woodmans are still cooking them up to this day. Woodman’s success and longevity in the deep-fried clam world is largely due to the lard they use in their deep fryers. The clams are sweet, tender, and crunchy, and they come from local clam beds in Essex and Ipswich, considered by many to be the best in the world.
SEE MORE: Fried Clam Trivia
Across the street from East Haven’s scenic public beach and next to a wonderful public playscape for kids, this clean, modest restaurant is a diamond in the rough when it comes to fried clams. Lightly breaded and cooked in oil that’s frequently changed, the Sandpiper’s clams stand out for their sweetness, crunchiness, and overall full-clam flavor. Check this place out the next time you’re cruising the Connecticut shoreline for quality clams and other seafood.
This clean, well-lit seafood shack serves up some excellent fried clams that are perfectly breaded and lightly fried for a satisfying crunchy texture with each bite. Using what they call a “convection” style of deep-frying, the outer portions of the clams are quickly seared at a high temperature, preventing them from absorbing the cooking oil. The end result is crispy, puffy fried clam perfection.
Though it is best known for having one of the best lobster rolls in Maine, the namesake fried clams here are also excellent. The clams are from nearby waters, very lightly breaded, and cooked in super-clean, frequently changed cooking oil for a sweet, crunchy taste and texture. Kennebunkport resident and former First Lady Barbara Bush declares these to be the best fried clams in the world. Who can argue with that?
SEE MORE: The Clam Shack | Kennebunk, Maine
Housed in a couple of snappy, dark-blue trailers by the tidal Warren River in eastern Rhode Island, Blount is known as an outstanding purveyor of clam chowder, both through its shacks and its institutional-size gourmet food operation nearby. But the fried clams at the shack are not to be missed. They’re chewy, they’re sweet, and they’re hand-selected from the voluminous amount of clams that Blount Fine Foods receives on a daily basis. Be sure to also order some award-winning chowder while you’re there.
SEE MORE: Brown’s Lobster Pound | The Best Lobster Roll in NH?
The fried clams at Lenny and Joe’s are crispy, sweet, and perfectly fried every time — something that similarly large, longstanding seafood shacks have a more difficult time doing. Each order of fried clams is quickly immersed in a succession of two fryers for quick, clean cooking that keeps the clams crunchy and free of lingering cooking oil. These remain the fried clams of choice on the Connecticut shoreline.
This tiny, weathered wood shack shares dock space with small ferryboats and schooners shuttling folks to and from nearby Martha’s Vineyard. The fried clams here are the best on Cape Cod, due to the freshness of the clams and the love and care owner Jim Murray puts into their preparation and cooking. Be sure to grab a picnic table out back to enjoy the comings and goings of the boats in the small harbor.
What tops your list for where to find the best fried clams in New England? (Or maybe steamed clams are more your style?)
This post was first published in 2015 and has been updated.