Sunday, November 15, 2009

Trader Joe's Steamer Clams

Sometimes you can take the girl out of New England, but you can't take New England out of the girl...

One of the things I miss most about Boston is clams. I don't know why clams don't seem to be as popular here on the West Coast as they are back East, but it is annoying. Next to never do you find "REAL" fried clams -- that is, clams that are breaded whole and then fried; not those rubber band-like strips that you find frozen in supermarkets or at "fast seafood" places (but that is a rant for another post). I also love clams on the half-shell, but again...

And it is rarer still to find steamers. Yes, you can buy whole clams at the supermarket and do it yourself, but they cost an arm and a leg most of the time. And they're not typically on restaurant menus, at least not around here. (Although, Red Lobster does have steamed clams in garlic sauce available as an appetizer.)

I had eyed Trader Joe's version before, but a couple of things kept me from getting them. One is I that am not a fan of frozen clams. Call me a snob, but I think freezing tends to make the texture rubbery.

The other reason is that the clams are in a garlic butter sauce. Now, we all know I love both garlic and butter. And I do in fact like garlic butter sauces. BUT, when it comes to steamed seafoods I tend to be a purist and prefer that they be naked. No garlic, no butter, no seasoning whatsoever. I love that briny, salty taste the clams have all on their own. Unfortunately for Trader Joe, their boxed steamer clams broke both of those rules, as they are not only frozen, but frozen in garlic butter sauce.

Well, rules were made to be broken. Sometimes you just want clams...and you want to pay under $5.00 to have them! After a relatively fast trip through the old microwave they were in front of me. (I know, I know, there is so much wrong with even the thought of microwaving clams, but the box says you can do it!)

So how were they?

To start with, the smell did not give me the warm fuzzies. Actually, it was kind of alarming. I wasn't expecting it to be like a day at the beach (or even a visit to Red Lobster), but from across the room it reminded me of fried bologna. Yes, fried bologna. And I have no explanation for that...nor, I suspect, does Trader Joe. Up close it does mellow out, and just smells like someone left a jar of minced garlic open. (Don't get me started on jarred garlic.)

The clams are quite small, but there are a lot of them. I don't hold this against Trader Joe because really, in terms of size, what are you expecting from frozen clams from a box? You are not exactly going to be pulling out some big ol' cherry stones. And I have to admit they look pretty nice, as you can see below:

I have to give Trader Joe's some credit. The clams themselves were better than I had expected. The texture, while not as smooth as a fresh clam, was not as rubbery as I feared. The clams do have that ocean taste I love. I wish they'd been bigger, because it's the belly of the clam that I really crave -- but again, for what they were they were pretty good.

The sauce is sauce only in the most basic sense. It's very, very watery; almost more of a brine than a sauce. If there is actually butter in there, it hides well. I could neither see it nor taste it. And the garlic tastes too strong, and stale. Oh, and it was sandy.

The other major issue is that you have to be super-careful when eating because some of the shells are shattered, and there are bits of shell embedded everywhere. I don't know about you, but I prefer not to to eat things that may cut me.

This is one of the rare times Trader Joe's disappoints. If not for the "sauce," the clams themselves would be OK...nothing great, but acceptable in a pinch. But since the sauce is already covering the clams, and the package has to remain sealed to cook, the two come as a package deal. (Yes, there may be ways around that -- but if I am going to go through that much effort, I could just buy live clams and be done with it.) Finally, the sand and shell bits really are a problem.

Bottom line? Skip it. Trader Joe's has plenty of good things, but this ain't one of 'em.

Trader Joe's

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