How to Cook with Canned Clams

Plenty of people turn their nose up at canned seafood, preferring to eat only fresh. Clams are no exception.

And while I’m the first to dig into a bowl of chowder festooned with meaty clams in their shells, I also make space in my pantry for the canned variety. Bottom line: there’s room for both in your repertoire.

WHAT’S IN A CAN OF CLAMS?

The canned clams you’ll find on supermarket shelves are either minced, chopped, or whole baby clams. Other clam products you may discover include smoked clams and bottled or canned clam juice. You can choose from a variety of brands, like Bumble Bee, which we photographed for this story or Sea Watch International who I interviewed to learn more about clams.

It’s worth noting that you can also find ready-to-eat clams in vacuum sealed pouches and in the frozen food section, though both are less common than canned.

BENEFITS OF CANNED VS FRESH CLAMS

For briny ocean flavor and tender texture, it’s hard to beat fresh clams. You’ll find an entire post about buying, cleaning, and cooking fresh clams here. As for canned clams, they have much to offer the home cook.

  • First, the canning process cooks the clams, so they need no additional cooking once you crack open a can.
  • Canned clams are shelf-stable, which means they’re at the ready when you are.
  • Plus, there’s little food waste (versus fresh clams, where a least a few duds tend to show up in every batch).
  • Canned clams are also a budget-friendly source of protein. A recent scan of supermarket prices found chopped clams cost between $3 and $5 for a 6.5-ounce can. Fresh tends to be pricier, particularly when you consider that the by-the-pound price means paying for the weight of not just the clam meat, but the shells, too.

It’s frankly hard to beat the convenience of turning a tin or two into a pasta dinner or bowl of soup.

A guide to canned clams with a close up of canned clams and a bottle of clam juice in the background.

ADDED SALT IN CANNED CLAMS

It’s worth reading the label, looking for clams canned with few added ingredients or preservatives. Look for brands packaged with little more than clams, clam juice, and salt.

Clams are typically canned with added salt, which is something to consider if you are aiming for a low-sodium diet. It can help to rinse canned clams before using to cut down on the sodium.

HOW TO USE CANNED CLAMS

Fresh clams do have more versatility than canned clams, but that doesn’t mean you are left without options when reaching for a pantry staple. Plenty of recipes work well with canned clams.

  • CHOWDERS AND STEWS: Minced, chopped, and whole baby clams add a pleasing bite to a bowl of chowder or seafood stew. Some recipes call for a combination of canned and fresh clams, such as in this Manhattan-style chowder. This creamy Clam Chowder with Corn includes instructions for using canned in lieu of fresh.
  • PASTA AND RICE DISHES: Classic Spaghetti and Clam Sauce works well with canned clams (and means less work for everyone at the table trying to pluck the clams from their shells). Paella is also a place where you can swap in canned for fresh in a pinch.
  • SALADS AND APPETIZERS: Whole baby clams can be used in place of fresh in cold seafood dishes, such as ceviche and Frutti di Mar Seafood Salad. Canned smoked clams speared on a toothpick make a tasty add to a snack board. And old-school clam dip is routinely made with minced clams.