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New England Clam Cakes

New England Clam Cakes

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Makes 20 to 25.
By Dennis W. Viau; modified from many Internet recipes.

Some will recognize that the name Clam Cakes is inaccurate. These are more like fritters. I grew up with them in Connecticut and they were known throughout New England as clam cakes. They were sold in many places—the concession stand at the beach or the drive-in, amusement parks, fish and chips shops, even the fast-food hamburger stands sold them. The flavor is unique. They also seem to be unique to New England and probably were created as part of New England’s traditional clam bakes (see the movie Carousel). I can’t find them anywhere here in Southern California. So I make my own.

Ingredients:

2 10-ounce (283g) cans chopped clams (each can will have about 5 oz. (142g) clams by weight and 5 fluid oz. (148ml) broth)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast*
11 ounces (312g) flour (2 cups scooped or 21/3 cups sifted)
½ teaspoon salt
Generous grating of fresh black pepper (about ¼ teaspoon)
6 cups oil for frying

Directions:

Drain the chopped clams and retain the broth. Set the clams aside. Heat the broth to about 110°F (43°C )and place in a bowl. Dissolve the yeast in the broth and stir in half the flour. Let sit about 5 minutes to activate the yeast. Add the remaining flour with the salt and pepper. Mix well. It should resemble a thick batter (or a wet sticky dough). Add the clams and combine.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place 30 to 45 minutes.

Heat the oil in a deep sauce pan or cast iron pot to 375°F (190°C). Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, drop dollops of batter, a few at a time, into the hot oil. Monitor the temperature (use an oil or candy thermometer) to keep it close to 375°, adjusting the flame up or down as necessary. At 375° very little oil will be absorbed by the cakes.

Cook the clam cakes 3 to 4 minutes, turning them occasionally with a metal spoon. When cooked, remove them from the oil using a strainer or spider and drain on paper towels.

Serve warm. New England Clam Cakes are typically served without any toppings or garnish; however, some people prefer to eat them with tartar sauce or something similar.

*I prefer using yeast rather than baking powder. The final clam cakes have a better consistency and shell. With baking powder I found that the outside would brown too crisp. As the insides continued to cook and expand, the cake would split and batter would squeeze out, forming strange extensions. With yeast I find the cakes are more elastic. They cook without splitting.