Yeah, I know, it doesn’t sound like something you would put in your mouth but believe me when I tell ya, piss clams are out of this world. I first came across them sometime in the late 90’s while working in Boston and happened to discover them in some hole in the wall dive bar that was close to the hotel I was staying in. They’ve become a favorite ever since.
Note: In some of your more fine dining establishments, piss clams are also referred to as “steamers”.
What are they?
Most of us think of clams as being hard-shelled and almost impossible to open without the aid of a tool intended for that purpose or without adding some heat and either steaming or baking them open. Piss clams are what’s known as soft shelled and you can easily snap them open by applying a little pressure with your thumb and forefinger.
Piss clams also differ from their hard-shelled brethren in another way. While they also use siphoning as a method for gathering food, their siphon often extends beyond their shell and is exposed. Here’s what a decent plate of them will look like once they’re prepared correctly. And no, the name “piss clam” does not come from the resemblance of its siphon to that of a penis. More on that later.
How do I find them?
It helps if you live on the upper coast of the Atlantic Ocean in North America. They lived buried in tidal mudflats up and down the coast and are usually found six to ten inches beneath the surface of the mud. They extend their siphon up through the mud in order to extract food from the seawater as it washes over the flats. You know you’re in a piss clam hotspot when you’re walking along the flat and as you put pressure on the mud the siphon might squirt some water up into the air or on your leg. Hence the name “piss clam”.
So, what do I do with them?
Once you’ve gathered up your piss clams toss them in a bucket and cover them with about three or four inches of seawater. Then let them sit in a cool place for several hours or even overnight. You might notice that after awhile something looking like an uncircumcised penis begin to protrude and make its way out of the shell. Don’t panic, that’s perfectly normal. The clam is just trying to discharge any sand or dirt it might have acquired while being buried beneath the mud flats. If the water becomes too murky because of this discharge, feel free to change it.
Now it’s time to cook the fuckers.
Depending on how many clams you have, put an inch or two of water in a large pot. If you want to, you a can also try steaming them in beer or wine but I think that’s a waste. Bring whatever beverage you choose to use to a boil and then dump the clams on to one of the steaming platters and cover the pot. Let them boil away from anywhere from five to ten minutes.
Uncover them and discard any of them that haven’t opened. They were probably dead to start with and you don’t want to be catching any kind of funky disease from eating spoiled dead things.
Pour what’s left of the water, beer or wine into some bowls to be used as a broth and then melt yourself some butter.
Whether you’re at home, in a dive bar or in a fine dining establishment there’s no need to stand on ceremony when it comes to eating piss clams. They are the perfect finger food.
Pluck the meat out of the shell by holding it by the siphon and giving it a gentle tug, swirl it around in the broth to remove any grit that might have survived the boiling process and slather it with a healthy coating of the melted butter. Some people prefer not to eat the actual siphon itself because it’s a bit tougher and more rubbery than the clam itself. As for me, I eat the whole kit and caboodle. It never hurts to have plenty of napkins on hand.
I like to wash these puppies down with a frosty adult beverage or two.
In closing, it doesn’t matter whether you call them piss clams or call them steamers, these things are delicious and make for a fine appetizer before a main course or just as a snack to tide you through the day.