How to Open a Clam with The Clam Bar’s Leigh Goodstein

Learn how to open clams the right way.

Working at The Clam Bar since age 14, Leigh Goodstein cut her teeth working for then-owner, Dick Ehrlich, in the early ’90s. She was drawn to the fast pace and intensity of the kitchen, so while all her friends got jobs bussing tables, she was hard at work debearding mussels and learning how to shuck clams. Growing up in the Hamptons provided a unique ability to work seasonally and earn enough for school and travel.

After going to school for architecture and anthropology, and lots of traveling, Goodstein decided to take her seasonal work more seriously and joined The Clam Bar as a year-round employee. So, while not a classically trained chef, she has mastered the simple but fresh menu of The Clam Bar while still finding room for innovative and fun additions over the years. In addition to the menu, Goodstein is responsible for The Clam Bar’s eclectic music lineup and online store, among other things.

Chef Leigh Goodstein
Chef Leigh GoodsteinCourtesy The Clam Bar

During the early days of the pandemic, Goodstein spearheaded an online grocery delivery service manned by Clam Bar staff members and family that packed and delivered groceries. Many volunteered to help, and several community members took the opportunity to help out others in need. To date, that has been one of the most rewarding aspects of her career. Early years in the business were shaped mostly by working with strong women who showed her how to function in a mostly male world. But Ehrlich, who passed away seven years ago, was fundamentally responsible for teaching Leigh the ins and outs of the business. Ehrlich always said working with young people was a reward in itself—something that Goodstein has seen for herself during her tenure, as The Clam Bar has been a jumping-off point for many people over the years. Today, Goodstein is a widow and mother to a 3-year-old son. Now, in her 27th year at The Clam Bar, Goodstein joins Ehrlich’s widow, Betsy Flinn, at the helm of The Clam Bar for another exciting season.

Now, let’s jump into Goodstein’s guide!

Picking the best and freshest clams is the first step to successfully opening them. As a caveat, the freshest clams are usually the hardest to open. If you’re in East Hampton, you can choose wild clams, which will have a gray or white shell, or, if it’s right out of the water, a blueish black shell, or a notada, which is a town-raised clam that usually has a brown or maroon zig zag on the shell. Either one will not disappoint.

Buy from reputable dealers—which in town includes roadside stands in Poseyville!

You have to have a great clam knife and, for me, there is no better knife than a Dexter—and it has to be the one with the wooden handle. The white plastic handle gets slippery once you start working and slipping makes the job much harder. If you can’t get your hands on the wooden-handled Dexter, buy the plastic-handled one and wrap some tape or a rag around it. Clam knives can be bought locally at bait and tackle shops, but you can also find them in restaurant supply stores.

If you’re right-handed, hold the clam with the hinge facing up and the umbo (the part of the clam that juts out from the hinge) away from your thumb. Hold the knife in your right hand (wrap all your fingers around it). Bring the knife (sharp side facing the clam) to the edge of umbo, and using the fingers on your left hand (yes, the hand holding the clam) push the blade of the knife between the shells. Don’t get discouraged if you “shave” the clam, and the knife doesn’t go in. Try again.

Once the knife is in, stop! Instead of cutting through and slicing the belly of the clam, use your right hand that’s holding the knife and twist to the right, which will pop the shell up. Then, go back in with the knife, running it along the top shell to release the clam from the top shell. Once the knife has reached the far edge of the clam shell closest to your thumb, you can push against the shell with your thumb and pop it right off.

Now you should be looking at a clam on the half shell. But there’s still one more step. Run the knife under the clam to release it fully from the shell by cutting the two muscles that attach it. Do that again 11 times and you’ve got a dozen!

Serve clams on the half shell cold and freshly opened with cocktail sauce and lemons. The Clam Bar’s cocktail sauce is a super simple combination of three parts ketchup, one part good horseradish (Gold’s is the best), a dash of Tabasco sauce and our secret ingredient, a capful of Worcestershire sauce.

To learn more about The Clam Bar, visit clambarhamptons.com.

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