Katlyn Graham: Hello, I’m Katelyn Graham, here with Steve Woodman, the co‑CEO and Owner of Woodman’s. Welcome, Steve!
Steve Woodman: Hi, Katelyn.
Katlyn: Thanks for joining us today! We’re discussing clams, one of the top items on the menu at Woodman’s. Steve, where do you get all your clams?
Steve: The clams come, mainly, from the Essex river, which is right across the street from our restaurant. It actually kind of swings in front of us, then goes in back of us along the salt marsh. But if you go towards the ocean, probably a couple miles from the restaurant, that’s where the Essex clam beds are. Clam diggers go down there, they dig the clams up, they bring them back into the dealers, wherever they’re selling them. That’s where the clams come from.
When we need more clams than the area provides or whatever, because during the summer, a lot of people looking for clams, yes, we get some clams down from Maine and maybe sometimes even from the Cape, depending on when you can get the best quality of the product.
Katlyn: I bet you guys go through a lot of clams each day.
Steve: We can, yes.
Katlyn: You get the clams. How do you cook the clams?
Steve: Well, for the clams that we do in clam bakes, they’re steamed. If we’re out on a clam bake and we have this big kettle, we just put a little bit of water in the bottom. We put the clams in there, build a fire underneath it, get it real hot and have the steam come up and simmer the clams until they’re done. Doesn’t take very long.
Katlyn: Now, this is different than the traditional style. This is what you do when you go to clam bakes, so you can make it more portable. What was the traditional style of cooking clams?
Steve: The traditional style of cooking clams, you think back to the Indian clam bakes, where they went on a beach, because it was easy to dig the sand out. They’d bring the driftwood and the wood around, so forth, and build this big fire. Then there’d be rocks around that they’d take and put into the fire to heat up really, really, really hot and they’d keep on stoking the fire until the rocks were really hot.
Then they’d get the seaweed, because the seaweed was growing right there on the shore and they’d cover the rocks. Then they’d put their lobsters and their clams and the corn that they had and any bits of meat or whatever they wanted to have with it, and they’d take more seaweed and just cover it completely with the seaweed.
The seaweed was wet, so the rocks would heat the wet seaweed, the steam would come up.
Generally, back then, they’d cover it maybe some animal skins. Nowadays, they would take these tops and cover it to hold the steam in. They’d cook it or let it cook for, could be an hour, could be two hours, depending on the amount of water and whatever that you had. They’d take the top off and take the seaweed off and then start passing the food out.
But to do that, it’s a lot of labor. You’ve got to start first thing in the morning and build a fire and it’s an all day process.
What my grandfather’s figured out to do is he wanted to do clambakes, and he knew some people in the area that would like to have clambakes. He devised a method where he actually cooked on top of the ground. He made these pots. He made these little racks that cooked pots on top of them, and had space underneath.
He built a wood fire underneath the pots. What he would do is, he would have one pot with the clams in it, and put a little bit of water, so they would steam up. He’d put a pot for the corn, and you’d boil the corn. He put more water in. The same thing with lobsters. He boiled the lobsters. That’s how he started doing his clambakes.
He could get there an hour, an hour and half before the party, set everything up, cook the food, and have it hot and ready to go for you in a lot less time.
That made the clambake a lot easier to do, and be able to go to different places. You didn’t have to go to a beach, and it wasn’t an all‑day process. People could have a good time, and have a clambake.
Katlyn: Wow, so he made it much more portable. That’s how you continue to do it today?
Steve: That’s right. Before it was with a wood fire, now we’re using propane.
Katlyn: That sounds like it made it a lot easier. Quite the process back then. You boil these clams, then how do you eat clams? I should know this, being a New Englander, but I haven’t eaten one before.
Steve: You’re not alone, because we go out on clambakes, and a lot of the customers ‑‑ a lot of the people that are there have never eaten them. A lot of them are not from around here, but some are from around here, but they’ve never had a clam. The clam has a shell, so when you steam it, it kind of pops open a little bit.
You just take the whole clam with the shell and all, and you break it apart. There’s a part of the clam that’s called the neck, and it’s a little bit more firm. You just take that neck, and you pull it out. The whole clam comes out. You put your fingers on the base of the neck, and there’s a little skin on top of that.
You just kind of pinch it, and pull that skin off. You have the clam in your hand, and you just rinse it in some clam broth that is from when you cooked it in the water that you cooked, and you rinse off any extra sand that may be on there. You dip it in some butter, or whatever you want, and you just eat it, and it goes down. It’s delicious.
Katlyn: That’s easy enough. You’ve just got to get it out of the shell.
Steve: Yeah. People say it’s like eating peas. Once you start, you can’t stop.
Katlyn: [laughs] Now, this is a little bit different than the fried clam, which I know…I believe it was your grandfather who also invented that, right?
Steve: That’s right, Chubby Woodman, back in 1916, actually, fried the first fried clam in Essex. The first fried clam stand was produced there in Essex, right where we are now. The same location.
Katlyn: The difference, instead of steaming, you would be frying?
Steve: Right, the clam would be, what they call shucked, taken out of the shell, and cleaned. It’s still raw. There wouldn’t be steam first. They take the clam out. Where you were pinching that neck to take the skin off, basically they take a knife, and they cut at the base of the neck, and take the head, and the skin off and peel it off and then you’d have your clam that they fry.
Then most of the neck is taken off because if you fry a clam with a big neck on it, it can get chewy. That comes off and you have your fried clams.
Katlyn: That does sound tasty. Now, normally, when you’re going to these clam bakes, it’s the steamed clams.
Steve: That’s typical on the clam bake is the steamed clams. But we can set it up and cook fresh fried clams right on site for you and we’re doing that more often. More people are requesting to have fried clams on their clam bake.
Katlyn: Which one do you prefer? How do you like your clams?
Steve: I like them both ways. It all depends on my mood. I’d probably eat more fried clams, just because I’m always at the restaurant, I’m always looking to make sure the quality is good. Of course, you’ve always got to taste to make sure the quality is there, so I’m always picking at different things to make sure it’s good for the rest of the people.
Katlyn: Sounds like you’ve been doing a good job, because everyone loves those clams at Woodman’s. Anything else you’d like people to know about clams, Steve?
Steve: Clams? Best clams around are at Woodman’s. Come down and get them.
Katlyn: That’s all you need to say, yes. Thank you so much for explaining all this, Steve.
Steve: Glad to be here, Katlyn.