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39cross
08-29-2007, 07:57 AM
Just saw this on the NY Times website, thought it would be nice to share with aficionados of fried bivalves everywhere. To paraphrase the apocryphal sayings of John Kerry, whom amongst us doesn't love a fried clam? Locally, I'm a fan of Farnhams in Essex and the Clam Box in Ipswich; everyone has their favorites and we don't all agree, it's another one of those Shimano vs. Campy types of things. The article is snipped into two pieces to accommodate the forum size restrictions.
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The New York Times
August 29, 2007
In a ’64 T-Bird, Chasing a Date With a Clam
By DAVID LEITE

RECAPTURING a childhood memory is nearly impossible. Chasing after it in a black 1964 Thunderbird convertible with red interior certainly helps.

The memory: lightly fried clams with big, juicy bellies, like the kind I munched on nearly every summer weekend growing up in Swansea, Mass. The car, owned by my friend Bob Pidkameny: a nod to my godfather, a local celebrity and stock car driver, who would pile my two cousins and me into whatever sleek beauty he was tinkering with and take us to Macray’s in Westport, Mass. There we sat — three lard slicks — digging into red-and-white cardboard boxes, while screams from the riders on the Comet, the wooden roller coaster at a nearby amusement park, floated across the highway.

Fried clams are to New England what barbecue is to the South. Like barbecue, the best clams come from small roadside shacks run in pragmatic mom-and-pop style. Flinty Northerners, like their porcine-loving counterparts, can be fanatically loyal to their favorite spots. To eat at any place but Macray’s was considered familial treason when I was growing up — it was Macray’s or nothing, until it was shuttered and we were set adrift.

This summer, in search of the clams of my youth, Bob and I covered more than 625 miles, visited 16 shacks and unashamedly basked in the attention the Thunderbird commanded from Branford, Conn., to Portland, Me., and back. In between rolls of antacid and scoops of ice cream, the unofficial finish to a fried-clam meal, we found that this summertime classic is even more fleeting than the season of its peak popularity.

Storms, public taste, government warnings about saturated fats, even school vacation schedules conspired to keep the clams of my memory mostly out of reach. But every once in a while, fate jiggered events and passed me a pint or two of the luscious, plump-bellied beauties I remember.

To many New Englanders the humble clam, which stars in chowders, clambakes and clam cakes, reaches its quintessence when coated and fried. And ever since July 3, 1916, when Lawrence Woodman, a k a Chubby, the founder of Woodman’s in Essex, Mass., fried a clam in lard normally reserved for his famous potato chips, cooks have been trying to create the perfect fried clam.

But unlike pit masters who rabidly guard their secret sauce recipes, fry cooks are an open book. All work with the same four elements: soft-shell clams, a dipping liquid, a coating and oil. According to almost all the cooks and owners I met the liquid is usually evaporated milk, and the coating is nothing more than some combination of flours: regular, corn or pastry. Most places use canola or soybean oil, which are high in unsaturated fats. Only Woodman’s and Essex Seafood, in Essex, Mass., still fry clams in pure lard.

So why are the clams I dream of so hit-or-miss?

“I’ve been doing this for 21 years,” said Dave Blaney, owner of the Sea Swirl in Mystic, Conn., “and the hardest part is training the new kids.” He explained that it takes two weeks to train summer help, usually college students, but it requires almost two months of supervision to turn them into bona fide fry cooks. He warned me about visiting shacks too early in the season (when the students are gearing up) or too late (when the exodus occurs, and deep-fryers can be left in the hands of most anyone — the owners’ sons or daughters, say, or the cleaning help).

Improperly cooked clams can range from oil-laden to burned. Indeed, the Clam Shack in Kennebunkport, Me., a favorite place I’ve been recommending to friends for years, presented Bob and me with a pint of puny dark-brown clams that tasted faintly of burned liver. Champlin’s Restaurant in Narragansett, R.I., another well-regarded spot, served clams so overcooked we dumped them after eating only a few. In both places, the kitchen crews looked like a cast from “The Real World” on MTV.

The Sea Swirl’s clams, on the other hand, were golden, with a light crunch, and the bellies, while on the smaller side, were plump and filled with ocean flavor. What caught my attention was that the siphons, or “necks,” were snipped off. That made for a soft chew, without the rubber-eraser bite common to most fried clams — even, I must admit, those from the hallowed boxes I remember at Macray’s.

I asked if this was a customary practice of purveyors. “No, I snip them here,” Mr. Blaney said. “Otherwise I’m at the mercy of the supplier, and I can’t afford that.” Of all the places we visited, only the Sea Swirl offered completely snipped necks; the others sold clams with just the tops nicked off.

This snipping, though, shouldn’t be confused with the iconic, and tasteless, clam strips featured on every Howard Johnson menu in New England. These impostors can be as varied as de-bellied steamers — a rarity — and slices cut from the “tongue” of the larger multipurpose Atlantic surf clam. No strip has the oceanic flavor of a true steamer with its belly firmly attached.

It was later that day, after leaving two small Massachusetts shacks empty-handed, that we understood just how much weather influences what we eat, or rather do not eat. As a result of several days of heavy downpours and runoff earlier in the week, the clam flats, the most highly prized of them off the coast of the state’s North Shore, specifically Ipswich and Essex, were closed.

The water can take several days to normalize after a big storm, according to Curt Fougere, a great-grandson of Chubby Woodman and the manager of Woodman’s. That’s why those smaller spots, which don’t sell as many clams as Woodman’s, had to turn us away. Larger places with purchasing muscle can buy from Cape Cod or even as far away as Maryland and Canada, but none of those clams have the Ipswich richness, a byproduct of the nutrient-filled mud.

“Cape Cod clams tend to be gritty,” Mr. Blaney said, “because they come from sandbars rather than mud flats.” Maryland steamers, while deliciously large, are too soft, he said, and break apart while cooking. Maine clams are considered the closest to Ipswich clams, and are the most common substitute.

In between shouts from classic car enthusiasts along Route 1, Bob and I theorized about the reasons for the dearth of the big-belly clams. We batted around global warming, pollution, disease, but none seemed likely to have knocked out only the pudgy clams. No, the biggest threat, we discovered, was far more menacing: fashion.

“Clams kind of go through cycles,” said Terry Cellucci, an owner of J. T. Farnham’s, one-third of the famous Essex clam shack trifecta that includes Woodman’s and Essex Seafood. For years, she explained, smaller clams have been in vogue. “Right now that’s what our customers like, so that’s what we buy.” The same was true of most every place we visited. The clams at Farnham’s fried up dark golden and pleasantly crunchy but were missing that burst of juicy belly brininess.

Two diners at the next table in Farnham’s, Janice Shohet of Lynnfield, Mass., and her guest, Stacey Malcolm, of Wichita, Kan., were of the plump-clam camp. When asked their favorite of the three popular Essex spots, Ms. Shohet tapped the table. “I like it here — it feels like a real seaside place,” she said, referring to the deep-blue inlet outside. Then she mentioned the most important clue to my past: “But we love the Clam Box, too. They give you a choice of big or small bellies.”

39cross
08-29-2007, 07:59 AM
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The New York Times
August 29, 2007
In a ’64 T-Bird, Chasing a Date With a Clam
By DAVID LEITE
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.....Continued.....

As we pulled up outside the Clam Box, eight miles northwest in Ipswich, Mass., the first thing we noticed — aside from the whimsical roof that looks like (what else?) an opened clam box — was the line snaking out the door. It numbered more than 20 and according to the owner, Marina Aggelakis — known to all as Chickie — had started forming, as always, 30 minutes before opening.

Taking Ms. Shohet’s advice, I searched the huge menu above the order window and found the one line of neat, tight printing I was hoping to see: “Big belly clams available on request.” The Clam Box was the only shack on our trip to offer up this critical piece of information unbidden.

When I ordered a pint of the big bellies, the woman behind the counter winced: “Are you sure? They’re big.”

“I’m positive.”

“You’ll only get about nine,” she said.

“That’s fine.”

She tried once more to dissuade me, but I resisted. When my number was called, a tray was pushed through the pickup window: on it was a mound of golden clams with bellies so big and soft the coating was chipping off. The necks, though not trimmed like those at the Sea Swirl, had none of the elastic bite I had encountered in many pints along the way. And the bellies dripped sweet, briny clam juice down my chin.

To pull this all off, Ms. Aggelakis uses only Ipswich clams unless bad weather or high demand causes her to turn to Maine suppliers. She also double-dips her clams while cooking. Excess coating stays behind in the first deep-fryer, allowing for cleaner cooking in the second. In addition, she closes the restaurant between lunch and dinner — unheard-of — to change the oil, ensuring a clean taste all day long.

It was an offhand comment, though, that gave me the final piece of the puzzle: darker-fried clams, she said, have a nuttier taste, while the lighter version lets the clam flavor predominate. Bingo. “I like to please my customers,” she added. “Some like them big, small, lightly fried, dark — we give them what they want.” Funny, the concept of requesting anything special at a clam shack’s takeout window had eluded me for 40 years.

Putting together the experience from the trip, I decided to try my hand at customizing my meal at Lenny’s Indian Head Inn in Branford, Conn. First, I called ahead because we had had two days of steady rain. The clams were frying. When I ordered, I asked the waitress, a bubbly young woman, if the restaurant had big-bellied clams. She wasn’t sure, so went to ask the cook.

She returned deeply crestfallen. All he had, she said, was medium-size, “but he’ll try to pick out the biggest ones.” Equally crestfallen, I agreed and asked for them to be lightly fried.

What was placed in front of me 10 minutes later was a platter with clams nearly as large as those at the Clam Box. They had a light golden almost tempuralike coating. And the bellies? They were briny, sweet and so juicy a lobster bib wouldn’t have been out of the question.

I could almost hear the screams from the Comet again.

znfdl
08-29-2007, 08:22 AM
39:

I can't wait to be in your neighborhood. Do you like red or white wine?

Kevan
08-29-2007, 08:29 AM
I'd want clams for breakfast.

Hardlyrob
08-29-2007, 08:41 AM
Mmmmm Farnham's, Woodman's, Clam Box - I think I know where I'm going for lunch. Sometimes the North Shore rules!

Bruce K
08-29-2007, 08:53 AM
No lunch for me.

Clams are an after ride delicacy/reward.

And yes, living on the North Shore, just a quick spin to the "Big Three" is one of the things I love about being here.

Great read, Rick.

Thanks,

BK

Dan Le foot
08-29-2007, 08:55 AM
Man, I used to live there. (Magnolia and Beverly)
I haven't had a proper fried clam (With the belly. Not clam strips that are nothing more than bread/batter) since moving to SoCal 25 years ago.
Gotta make a trip east.
Dan

Bart001
08-29-2007, 10:01 AM
Man, I used to live there. (Magnolia and Beverly)
I haven't had a proper fried clam (With the belly. Not clam strips that are nothing more than bread/batter) since moving to SoCal 25 years ago.
Gotta make a trip east.
Dan

Buy me a burger at Hodads, or some good fish tacos, and I'll spring for clams when you're back east.

You guys are making me hungry!

Bruce K
08-29-2007, 10:31 AM
We may have to settle this with an "official" Serotta Forum Fried Clam Challenge.

This sounds like a road trip that starts at either my house, 39cross', or hardlyrob's and hits each and every clam joint in the area. These would include: Woodman's, Essex Seafood, Farnham's, The Clam Box, and any other "worthy" purveyor of bivalve delights that us locals can think of.

We would have to buy a plate of clams at each stop and everyone could taste some before we rode on.

Please understand (for all you ultra-endurance riders/eaters) that it is about 10 miles from my house to The Clam Box with all the others scattered in between over about a 3/4 mile stretch.

Either that or we do it by car to avoid "littering" the side of the road. :rolleyes: :D :banana:

BK

paczki
08-29-2007, 10:41 AM
Ride from Newbury down 1A to Farnham's and back. Great ride and the best clams.

old_school
08-29-2007, 12:25 PM
I hope I am not overstepping my bounds here, but for those of you touring the fried clam super highway, feel free to stop on by ...

WeDigClams.com (http://www.WeDigClams.com)

It would be an honor to meet you all.

Mark

Bart001
08-29-2007, 12:31 PM
Cool Mark! I've heard your ads on WRKO (I think) (which either proves, or disproves, the power of advertising).

So when does the tour take place? Saturday before Hub on Wheels? Sooner?


PS Bruce et al. are you riding this weekend? I have no plans yet for riding Sat or Sun or Mon.

gdw
08-29-2007, 12:34 PM
+1 on the Village. Great clam's but I'd feel a little out of place in sweaty cycling clothes. Anyone remember Goodwin's in Lynnfield or the original El's on Rte 1 in York Maine when it was just the white shack?

Bart001
08-29-2007, 12:40 PM
+1 on the Village. Great clam's but I'd feel a little out of place in sweaty cycling clothes. Anyone remember Goodwin's in Lynnfield or the original El's on Rte 1 in York Maine when it was just the white shack?

Nonsense; they have some outdoor tables . . . we could find a downwind table :cool:

I'm used to getting odd looks (in or out of Spandex).

Kevan
08-29-2007, 12:47 PM
Nonsense; they have some outdoor tables . . . we could find a downwind table :cool:

I'm used to getting odd looks (in or out of Spandex).

my wife refers to me as "Low tide" when I return from my rides.

Bruce K
08-29-2007, 03:20 PM
No weekend plans yet. I am in a little bit of a quandry as I would normally be on a slight down cycle before the Sunflower Revolution weekend, but we also have our Team Time Trial on Wednesday night so I can't really back off as we have a team ride Friday night and then the real thing.

I would certainly be open to a ride on either Saturday or Sunday.

As for the Tour du Bivalve (is it attempt #2 or #3?) could easily occur on the Saturday before Hub on Wheels. That way Znfdl can be included.

BK

znfdl
08-29-2007, 03:41 PM
We may have to settle this with an "official" Serotta Forum Fried Clam Challenge.

This sounds like a road trip that starts at either my house, 39cross', or hardlyrob's and hits each and every clam joint in the area. These would include: Woodman's, Essex Seafood, Farnham's, The Clam Box, and any other "worthy" purveyor of bivalve delights that us locals can think of.

We would have to buy a plate of clams at each stop and everyone could taste some before we rode on.

Please understand (for all you ultra-endurance riders/eaters) that it is about 10 miles from my house to The Clam Box with all the others scattered in between over about a 3/4 mile stretch.

Either that or we do it by car to avoid "littering" the side of the road. :rolleyes: :D :banana:

BK

Please do it when I am in town.

Hardlyrob
08-29-2007, 03:55 PM
I'm ridin with some friends over in Chatham NY this weekend, so I'm with Znfdl, Saturday the 22nd for the bivalve superhighway tour.

If you want to start at my place I already have most of a route figured out through Boxford, Rowley, Clam Box, Ipswich, Village Restaurant, Woodman's, Essex Seafood, and back through Wenham, Danvers and Topsfield.

davids
08-29-2007, 04:03 PM
Man, aren't any other members of the Jewish Cabal ©® fasting on 9/22? C'mon! Get with the conspiracy, folks!




...um, not that I would ever eat such a disgusting piece of trafe anyway...

Bruce K
08-29-2007, 04:04 PM
Znf-

We NEVER would have left you out of this (now I can't remember where I posted that already).

OK, let's make that the next "official" Forum event.

A double Header weekend.

The Tour du Bivalve on Saturday 9/22 and Hub on Wheels on Sunday 9/23.

The TdB will start at hardlyrob's house in Topsfield. Details to be determined.

BK

znfdl
08-29-2007, 06:13 PM
David:

I will forgoe fasting for a bivalve adventure of that magnitude.

Dave S: Thanks.

Bruce K
08-29-2007, 07:01 PM
OMG, I completely missed that Saturday the 22nd is special for some of us.

As my old rabbi used to say, I'm afraid I've become a Seventh Day Absentist, so I guess it's miles and clams on the 22nd.

BK

rounder
08-29-2007, 09:08 PM
We may have to settle this with an "official" Serotta Forum Fried Clam Challenge.

This sounds like a road trip that starts at either my house, 39cross', or hardlyrob's and hits each and every clam joint in the area. These would include: Woodman's, Essex Seafood, Farnham's, The Clam Box, and any other "worthy" purveyor of bivalve delights that us locals can think of.

We would have to buy a plate of clams at each stop and everyone could taste some before we rode on.

Please understand (for all you ultra-endurance riders/eaters) that it is about 10 miles from my house to The Clam Box with all the others scattered in between over about a 3/4 mile stretch.

Either that or we do it by car to avoid "littering" the side of the road. :rolleyes: :D :banana:

BK

If you want it to be an epic challenge you should extend the ride to the lobster shack at linconville beach on rte. 1 (just north of camden maine), you can sit and watch the ferry go to/from isleboro while you wait. The fried clams there are awesome ...likewise the clam chowdaww.

Bruce K
08-30-2007, 05:50 AM
Yes, riding to Camden from The North Shore would be epic. I seem to remember that it takes about 4 hours to drive there.

Camden is a beautiful town with scenic views and cool shops, but a little too far to ride. But it is definitely a place I want to get back to.

BK

39cross
08-30-2007, 07:57 AM
39:

I can't wait to be in your neighborhood. Do you like red or white wine?It'll be great to have you up here. Summertime is the time I prefer whites, but it's all good. I have a nice red to share with you.

Mark, I used to love the Village when I was a kid, my parents used to take us there all the time. Especially loved that fisherman's platter...the clams and onion rings were excellent. I will have to stop in and see how you're doing one of these days.

Hardlyrob
08-30-2007, 08:35 AM
Hey Old School - You in for the Epic Tour du Bivavle Superhighway?

old_school
08-30-2007, 08:40 AM
Mark, I used to love the Village when I was a kid, my parents used to take us there all the time. Especially loved that fisherman's platter...the clams and onion rings were excellent. I will have to stop in and see how you're doing one of these days.

Thanks for the kind words. Perhaps this might bring back some old memories ... and a taste of things to come.

I look forward to meeting you all.

Bruce K
08-30-2007, 08:42 AM
Mark;

We haven't been to your place in quite some time though several of my sons freinds and fellow JROTC cadets have apparently worked for you.

Now that we have a little time on our hands, we will hvae to drop in.

Which might be a better evening and/or time to avoid a larger crowd?

BK

old_school
08-30-2007, 09:10 AM
Bruce,

Labor Day weekend is the last big hurrah for most of us on the North Shore. After that, summer vacations are over, kids go back to school, tourists go back home, and I get to slow down to something like an 80 hour week :)

But, that is only for people who don't ride bikes. :D Hence, stop by anytime. Look me up - we will take good care of you. Membership has it's privileges.

old_school
08-30-2007, 09:12 AM
Hey Old School - You in for the Epic Tour du Bivavle Superhighway?

I am afraid that I will be working ... hopefully I will see you on the other side of the table!

Hardlyrob
08-30-2007, 09:35 AM
We'll look for you, and we'll probably be hard to miss.

You do have some outdoor tables that are down wind right?

Cheers!

Rob

alancw3
08-30-2007, 09:44 AM
ah remember friday night clam fries at hojo's? like all you can eat for$3.99. i remember going there with my parents in like 1963 and the place was packed! a different time and a different place in life!!!!! life was sure simpiliar then.

old_school
08-30-2007, 09:51 AM
We'll look for you, and we'll probably be hard to miss.

You do have some outdoor tables that are down wind right?

Cheers!

Rob

We have an outdoor patio where you can park your bikes and relax. (Of course, you are more than welcome to dine inside, also). Technically, we do not, at present, offer outside table service - it is more of a waiting/cocktail area. However, if you all feel more comfortable with that arrangement, I will see that you are well catered to. As I stated earlier, membership has its privileges.

PS> While I do not necessarily condone drinking and peddling, there is nothing like a frosty local micro brew to go with that seafood. Maybe just at taste ...

davids
08-30-2007, 10:02 AM
If you want it to be an epic challenge you should extend the ride to the lobster shack at linconville beach on rte. 1 (just north of camden maine), you can sit and watch the ferry go to/from isleboro while you wait. The fried clams there are awesome ...likewise the clam chowdaww.
I rode through Lincolnville Center (such as it is...) several times this summer, but that's as far east as I traveled by bike. Man, I love Maine!

Hardlyrob
08-30-2007, 11:16 AM
For those that are interested in participating in the Tour du Bivalve, I've started a thread in the rides and events area that has some of the details and preliminary plans.

Cheers!

Rob

Bruce K
08-30-2007, 12:12 PM
Mark;

That micrcobrew would have to be a Mercury Brewing product, right? Gotta support that brewery as it is a big supporter of ECV cycling events.

Besides, Ipswich Ale, Stone Cat, it's all good stuff.

BK

djg
08-30-2007, 12:16 PM
Man, aren't any other members of the Jewish Cabal ©® fasting on 9/22? C'mon! Get with the conspiracy, folks!




...um, not that I would ever eat such a disgusting piece of trafe anyway...

But, but we had the cable disconnected. And I don't study cabbalah. Am I still a member?

The 22d is, as our sphardic brothers and sisters say, occupado, and I'm not eating until sundown (and probably not fried food just then), but I'll wish all of you a good day and a good new year, whatever your observance, or affiliation, or interest, or lack thereof.

znfdl
08-30-2007, 01:07 PM
But, but we had the cable disconnected. And I don't study cabbalah. Am I still a member?

The 22d is, as our sphardic brothers and sisters say, occupado, and I'm not eating until sundown (and probably not fried food just then), but I'll wish all of you a good day and a good new year, whatever your observance, or affiliation, or interest, or lack thereof.

DJG:

I will have space in my car. I will explain to your wife that we are going on a bike rider's Y'om Kipurr retreat. My plan is for two days of riding in Amherst with two of my brothers, then onto Gloucester to meet up with the gang.

djg
08-30-2007, 07:07 PM
DJG:

I will have space in my car. I will explain to your wife that we are going on a bike rider's Y'om Kipurr retreat. My plan is for two days of riding in Amherst with two of my brothers, then onto Gloucester to meet up with the gang.

Znfndl, that sounds like a lot of fun -- certainly more fun than what I had planned. So explain away. And remember, while you're explaining, she's laughing WITH you, not at you (I'm not sure that it's true in my case, and it never gets me anywhere, but it does make me feel a little better).