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Garlic clams

Updated: Tue, 14 May, 2024

Garlic clams steamed in white wine sauce are a perfect start to a delightful main course, be it pasta, noodles or soup.

garlic clams

Happy as a clam

The popular adage is actually sneaky – it doesn’t mean clams are cheerful little molluscs because, how would we even know? The full phrase is ‘happy as a clam at high tide’ and it means they are safe from being picked when tide comes up to cover their ocean abode. Not so happy! just not terrified in the face of peril.

In other linguistic departments they don’t have good press: clammed up, closed like a clam, clammy hands. Those similes are totally undeserved because clams are one of the nicest sea creatures, much tastier than whelks or sea snails, and easier to prepare and cook than mussels.

Linguni alla vongole or clam chowder are the most popular clam dishes and you should be pleased to know my recipe is for a preparation that will take you halfway towards either. But clams are just as tasty swimming in garlic sauce mopped up with a bit of crusty bread.

clams steamed with butter and garlic

How to clean clams?

Very easily. Unlike with mussels which need debearding, de-barnacling and de-whatnot, all clams require is rinsing with cold water and picking any that are crushed or damaged. They better not be, considering their price.

If they are trying to open up, tap the shell against the sink to make them – he, he – clam up. If they refuse, discard.

If you’re not cooking them straight away, place them in a bowl in the fridge, covered with a double layer of wet paper towel.

clams garlic vermouth

How to cook clams?

Even easier. Basically, all you need to do it place them in a pot with a lid and heat up until they open. It’s the same approach as you might take with mussels, simple and effective.

But what would be the point of me if I didn’t suggest something a little more delicious and pleasing? It’s still very easy but makes a dish rather than an ingredient.

Butter and lots of garlic – that’s the base for the sauce. You can press the garlic directly into the pan, onto foaming butter. Let it cook for a minute to soften, making sure it doesn’t brown.

The cooking liquid of my choice is a combination of dry white wine and vermouth, but you can swap the latter for sherry. If you have half a good beef stock cube or a teaspoon of beef concentrate, add it in but it’s not essential. It just adds to the umami that the clams themselves carry.

Boil that boozy soup down to reduce and thicken, then add the clams, all at once. Cover the pan with a lid and wait for a couple of minutes, giving the pan a good shake halfway through. Once all the clams open, they are ready. Discard the ones that won’t open – they didn’t make it to your kitchen.

cooking garlic sauce for clams

How to use garlic clams?

So how to utilise and consume these little beauties in the nicest way? One way is crystal clear, linguini or spaghetti alla vongole, pasta with clams. All you need to do is cook pasta, stir the clams and their sauce through it and shower with Parmesan.

But they are also delightful on bruschetta, drizzled with a little of the sauce, not too much so the bread doesn’t get soggy. Shaved Parmesan and fresh chopped herbs will complete the plate.

You can also toss the clams with freshly cooked noodles and sprinkle with furikake seasoning.

Plus of course, with some stock, cream and potatoes they will turn into delicious chowder.

clams with garlic and white wine

More shellfish recipes

Curried mussels spiced with chilli powder, cumin and turmeric, vibrant in colour with saffron, cooked in light creamy sauce. Option to substitute curry powder for my spice mix.

Grilled lobster with flavoured butter: a recipe for a live lobster. How to boil, crack, split in half a lobster and prepare it for grilling at home with garlic flavoured butter.

Hot butterflied tiger prawns in a spicy marinade by Ottolenghi. Grill them, fry them or barbecue them as long as you’re quick – they only need a minute in the pan.

More pasta sauce recipes

Creamy mushroom ragu made to Heston Blumenthal’s recipe is a rich and flavourful dressing for pasta, gnocchi or polenta. With a hint of tomato, it's Umami Central.

Homemade tomato sauce made from fresh tomatoes - simple, basic and easy to make. Use fresh ripe tomatoes, skinned and de-seeded, but the recipe works with good tinned ones as well.

Classic pesto is made from basil, toasted pine nuts, Parmesan and extra virgin olive oil. Easy to make at home and more versatile than you'd think.

garlic and white wine steamed clams

Garlic clams

Servings: 4Time: 15 minutes


  • ½ kg (1 pound) fresh clams
  • 50g (3 tbsp) unsalted butter
  • 5-6 garlic cloves
  • 100ml (½ cup) vermouth or sherry
  • 100ml (½ cup) dry white wine
  • 1 tsp concentrated beef stock or ½ stock cube (optional)


1. First clean the clams: rinse them well with cold water, place in a bowl and if not using straight away, cover the bowl with a wet paper towel and refrigerate.

2. To prepare the sauce, melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Press the garlic into the butter when it’s foaming and let it cook for a minute or two to soften.

3. Add the sherry or vermouth, the white wine and a splash of beef stock, if using.Bring to a rolling boil and cook to reduce and thicken to a sauce consistency.

4. Add the clams to the pan, cover with a lid and cook for a couple of minutes, shaking the pan every now and then, until they have opened. Discard the ones that haven’t. If not using or eating them straight away, transfer to a bowl, cool down and store in the fridge for up to a couple of days.

Originally published: Sun, 31 January, 2016

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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