PNW Butter Clam Chowder

by mephistia

A shellfish license in Washington State costs $14/ year for adults (free for children), which is well worth the cost. Clamming is simple as pie — get your license, grab a shovel and bucket, find an approved beach, and dig until you get your limit. It’s a fun activity for the whole family, not to mention outdoors exercise and cost efficient.

Since the limit for butter clams is 40 clams per person, you end up with quite a few clams. Our last dig, we took home just one catch limit, although there were 3 licensed people digging (ie: up to 120 butter clams allowed), and that’s still enough for 2 batches of clam chowder and some delicious clam-garlic spaghetti. For this, I adapted an Allrecipes contribution.

Best Clam Chowder


1 cup of clams (steamed, washed, cleaned, chopped)
1/2 cup clam juice
1 rasher bacon (12 oz)
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1/2 diced yellow onion
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrots
2 cups cubed red potatoes
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 quart half-n-half
2 tbls red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
ground black pepper to taste


  1. Chop the celery, potatoes, and carrots, onions, and garlic; set aside.
  2. Chop the uncooked bacon into 1-inch chunks. Cook until brown and crumbly. Add garlic and onion a little before it’s done, so they’ll carmelize and not overpower the chowder.
  3. Add chopped veg to the bacon, lightly brown, then pour veg, bacon and all into a larger pot (I use 8 qt pot).
  4. Put the clam juice in w/ veg, add water until just barely covered (about 2 cups water). Cover and cook over medium heat until fork-tender.
  5. In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and whisk in flour to make a roux.
  6. Whisk in half-n-half, stirring constantly, until thick and smooth.
  7. Add the cream roux to the vegetables and clam juice. Heat through, but do not boil.
  8. Just before serving, stir in clams.
  9. Once clams are heated through, stir in the vinegar and season with salt and pepper, then serve.

To thoroughly clean the clams of sand, we put them in a large cooler filled with ice and mix a solution of 2 gallons cold water, 1/2 cup sea salt, and 1/2 cup cornmeal. We agitate the water with a small aerator to keep the clams alive, and wait 2-3 hours, or until they start spitting sand. As we remove them, we scrub the edges gently with a small, clean, soft-bristled tooth brush.

Whether you choose to steam or boil the clams, you know it’s properly cooked when the shell “pops” and opens fully, exposing the meat within. If the shell does not pop and expose the cooked meat within, the clam was dead before cooking and is not good to eat. I usually clean the cooked clams again under running water while removing the meat, and once I’ve cut off the stomachs and put them away for crab bait, I rinse the meat one more time before chopping it up for storage and/or meal preparation.