The cold of winter here in New England has me craving a warm summer day when a dozen fresh shucked oysters and a couple of pounds of steamers or mussels are just a short drive away. Until then, I've got some time to perfect my recipes and techniques for making the perfect batch of steamers...and to do so, I'll refer to some tips given to me recently while at Mac's Shack and the Beachcomber in Wellfleet, MA.
There are a couple of big points to consider when making steamers: 1)No sand! -- simple as it sounds it's really difficult to clean these suckers, so the guys at Mac's actually built their own holding tanks for mussels, lobsters, and steamers that filters in Wellfleet Bay water 24 hours a day. This provides the steamers a chance to spew all the sand they ate while in the wild, without losing any of that natural flavor. To simulate this at home, soak the steamers in cold salt water for 24 hours in the refigerator. 2)No broken shells! --this one can be taken care of during the selection and storage process. Keep steamers in a collander in the refrigerator in a single to double layer covered with a damp cloth. Steamers are called soft-shell clams for a reason so be gentle! 3)Perfectly cooked without being overdone! -- This is tougher than it sounds. When cooking littlenecks or mussels, the opening of the shell is the best indication of being done, however with steamers, that is not the case. The name "steamer" comes from the traditional cooking method where 1-2 inches of water or broth was brought to a boil in the bottom of a pot, then the steamers would be added and allowed to steam for several minutes. This creates a good finished product, however after much snooping at some of the best seafood shacks on Cape Cod, I noticed that they actually boil the steamers and mussels in giant pots containing slightly salted water! I recommend the following when cooking 2#'s of steamers:
8 qts water
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon sea salt
Bring all of the ingredients to a boil and then drop in the steamers for 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon. Strain the broth through cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer and reserve for dipping or drinking. Serve steamers with broth and drawn butter.