It was a slow day at his clam shack Woodman's of Essex on July 3, 1916, when Lawrence Woodman – known as "Chubby" to his pals – first got the idea to do the unthinkable and fry a clam. A few of his friends were hanging around the shop when one, enjoying Chubby's homemade potato chips, turned to him and said, "Chubby, if you can fry a clam half as well as you make potato chips, I bet people would buy them." The gang laughed off the wild suggestion, but Woodman and his wife Bessie went to work and debuted their fried clams at a town parade the next day. "He made $35 that day," recounts Steve Woodman, his grandson and current co-CEO of Woodman's. "That was the most he'd ever made in a single day, and he was a smart man so he kept the clams on the menu."
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the restaurant that gave us that New England delicacy. Over the century, Woodman's has transformed from a tiny clam shack into a bustling restaurant with a mail-order seafood enterprise and its own cookbook, but one thing hasn't changed: the fried clam recipe. You can make them at home by following the Woodman's recipe below, but don't worry if you get lost – you can follow the professionals in action through the restaurant's video tutorial.
Woodman's Fried Clam Recipe
Vegetable oil, lard, or Crisco
1. Heat up lard, oil, or Crisco to 350° in either an electric home fryer, a cast iron skillet, or a heavy frying pan. You want to add enough so that when it melts, you have 2-3 inches of liquid in your pan.
2. Pour evaporated milk into a bowl. Taking only a small handful at a time, dip the clams into the bowl.
3. Strain off any excess milk.
4. Spread corn flour on a cookie sheet and evenly coat the strained clams. Shake off any excess corn flour
5. Carefully dunk the clams, again in small batches, into the hot fat, making sure not to crowd the clams while frying.
6. After about a minute and 15 seconds, the sizzling should start to quiet down. That's when you scoop out the clams with a slotted or mesh utensil. They should be golden when you take them out.
7. Test the clams to make sure they're crisp. Drain cooked clams on a paper towel.
Season with salt and pepper and then serve with either lemon wedges, tartar sauce, or ketchup.