Clam Chowder via Nantucket

Jul 2015

Thirty miles out to sea is one of my most-loved places in the world. Nantucket is glowing in all of its summer glory, and after a weekend on the island, I thought it perfect timing to bring a cup of clam chowder to Meatless Monday this week. The water has finally warmed enough for an extended dip to forage for bivalves, a favorite summer activity.

Nantucket Island

I’ve been digging clams since I was a kid. My first time was on Fire Island, NY, many moons ago. In the cool September air, my Dad taught me the clam “shuffle”, twisting back and forth, digging in with my heels and then my toes to search for what was to become a familiar, smooth and curved surface. When I graduated to a rake, it took me much longer to get the hang of it, to recognize the difference between the feel of a rock and the tongs of the rake capturing the clam nesting in seaweed. I still prefer to use my feet to search for the tasty morsels. Clams are one of summers sweetest treats from the sea. Over the years we’ve made them into everything from clams casino, to clam dip, clam fritters, clam cakes (not a favorite) and linguine with clam sauce. They are versatile and come in all shapes and sizes, but nothing beats a raw clam opened moments after it has left the sea, juicy, sweet and sexy!

Tools of the trade for clamming

Some might call it sacrilegious for a Boston gal to be telling you about Manhatten clam chowder, but I much prefer the red version to the creamy northern option. My recipe is like a healthy vegetable soup that tastes of the ocean, and besides, you can move this woman north, but she’ll never loose her Jersey Shore roots!
Have you ever seen a more stylish clammer? This handsome guy taught me everything I know about clamming.  Some people like to use a rake, I much prefer finding the clams with my toes.  If you should find yourself on Nantucket, rent a boat for the afternoon to coincide with low tide and try your hand at finding these delicious morsels. Just look for a group of people with a basket in an inner tube and you’ll know it’s a good spot. A few fun tidbits on the half shell:
  • Remains of a clam first appeared in rocks from the Cambrian age-510 million years ago
  • Clams were used in the past by the Algonquians as a type of currency.
  • Clams are herbivores, their main diet is plankton.
  • Littlenecks are the small sweet version of the clams below, Cherrystones are the larger version.
  • They are a lean source of protein and rich in vitamins and minerals.
  • Clams are high in sodium, so low salt diets should keep that in mind.
Opening clams for recipes.

Traditional method for opening a clam when eating them right out of the sea or making clams casino above. The rusty hammer is key!

Steamed Clams-littlenecks and cherrystones

Steamed clams ready for the next step, or yummy eaten right out of the shells.

Clam chowder tastes of the sea.

Clam Chowder

12 large clams. We use the large clams because they are tougher, and perfect for chopping in the cuisinart for dips and chowder. Don’t waste the tender, small bites in this recipe.
16oz. V-8 or tomato juice
1 cup clam juice or add water to make a cup
16 oz. can chopped tomatoes or two cups fresh {skin removed}
3 potatoes
1/2 chopped onion
3 chopped carrots
2 stalks celery chopped
1 T. Horseradish
1t. Worcestershire sauce
2bay leaves
3/4 t. Oregano
Additional vegetables that can be added are green pepper, corn or red pepper.
Healthy dash Sriracha or hot pepper sauce

  • Wash clams well, scrubbing the shells and then wash them again. Bake clams in 350° oven in a lipped pan. You want to use the juice that will release from the clams as they open. Time will vary according to size, but it usually takes about 15 minutes.  Discard any clams that have not opened in their shells. Remove clams from shells, discard shells, and strain the juice remaining through a paper towel to remove and grit or sand. Save to add to the soup.
  • Pulse clams in a food processor until chopped into fairly small chunks. The size is a personal preference, but the larger clams can be tough, so overdo it rather than under.
  • Cook onions in 1 T. Olive oil and when they begin to wilt, add the rest of the vegetables and oregano, stir to coat and cook 5 minutes.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients , stir well and simmer until the potatoes are cooked through.

We had some leftover fresh corn on hand, and added that at the end before serving. It’s good with or without.

The beautiful waters off Nantucket Island.


  1. suzie nash says:

    love the picture of your Dad!

    • alison says:

      It is always so fun to get the family together to go clamming. He is a master, and brought a couple dozen in this weekend! Thanks for the comment, i’ll pass it along.

  2. Clam digging looks like fun! And how nice you get to spend family time together going “clamming.” That photo of your father is priceless :-).

  3. I love clam chowder but have never tried an authentic one from the US. I could get into the clam digging, it would be fun.

  4. That’s so cool about clamming with your toes! That would take real skill but sounds like a blast! Thanks for the recipe…it looks yum. Now to find some fresh clams!

  5. Shelley says:

    Thanks for the recipe. I love clam chowder, but living in Calgary I would have to go to my local fish shop. Digging for clams in Nantucket sounds wonderful.

  6. Your clam chowder looks wonderfully healthy, fresh and delicious! We enjoyed it several times when we recently visited Nantucket.

  7. Oh, I’d love to spend an afternoon clamming with your dad. I bet we could cover a thing or two in conversation. What lovely memories your posts always conjure.

  8. I’ve never been clamming! Now I want to go!! Wonderful memories, Alison. Going to try that recipe and pass it on to friends. Thank you!

    • alison says:

      Thanks Ursula, indeed it is a treasured memory and the subject is one we have many laughs about. Let me know how your friends like it.