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Cheap Eats Clam Spaghetti

It’s been an awful long time since we had a recipe on Cheap Eats. It’s not that I haven’t been cooking – just that it takes awhile to figure out or even remember exactly what I put in dishes.

This one is from a few months ago, but I think it’s semi-accurate. It’s Clam Spaghetti, one of my favorite things to make for a quick lunch if I happen to have the clams on hand. You’ll note that the popular pasta to use for a dish like this is actually linguini – I actually like the thinner noodles and I’ll often use the even thinner spaghettini.

Cheap Eats Clam SpaghettiThe title of this post is “Chicken of the Sea Clams” instead of Clam Spaghetti, and that’s because it was originally meant as a review of the Chicken of the Sea Whole Baby Clams in the foil pouches. You’ve probably seen the tuna, clams and possibly oysters in these foil pouches. They do tend to taste a little better to me than the canned variety, but are definitely more pricey.

The other day I happened to see the clams on sale for a buck each so I picked up a few pouches to make spaghetti. These pouches are pretty small – only 100 grams worth of clams – so you need 2 pouches to actually make enough clam spaghetti for two people.

Before I get into the quality of the clams – here’s the approximate recipe for those who are too impatient:

Clam Spaghetti

2 3.5 oz pouches of baby clams — $2.00
2 tbsp e.v. olive oil — $0.10
3-4 cloves minced garlic — $0.07
1/2 lb dry spaghetti / spaghettini — $0.50
1-2 tbsp chopped parsley — $0.05
1/2 cup chicken stock — $0.15
1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese – $0.10
red pepper flakes — optional
salt, pepper, water – negligible

Total: $2.97

Get a pot of water for the spaghetti going on high. Mince up the parsley and set aside. Mince the garlic and set that aside. Open the pouches and drain the clams, reserving the liquids.

Wait until water boils, then add the dry spaghetti. Start melting the butter in the olive oil in a skillet on medium. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute for 1-2 minutes. Add the reserved clam liquid and chicken stock and simmer for 3-5 minutes. (Keep and eye on the spaghetti so it doesn’t get overcooked!) Some people also put in a few tablespoons of Chardonnay or other white wine as well. If you do so, add that first and make sure to cook it out before adding the chicken stock and clam juice.

Add the clams to the skillet (do NOT cook this for too long – ). When the spaghetti is al dente, I like to take it out with tongs and put it directly into the pan. Then whack the parsley in there along with the parm cheese and salt/pepper to taste. If it’s too dry, add a bit of the pasta cooking water. Toss it a bit and serve.


Ok, so here is the biggest issue with any type of packaged clams. The SAND. This added ingredient is somewhat unavoidable. I haven’t yet had a can or package of clams that don’t have the sand. I’ve come to accept it. What you can do is drain the clams and then rinse them to get rid of as much sand as possible. However, I feel that washing the clams sometimes has an effect on the taste.

In addition, that liquid you drain off is a lot of flavor lost in a dish like this. You COULD use bottled clam juice, but that’s quite pricey. You can actually try and strain it out with a cheese cloth or paper towel – I haven’t tried that.

No, I usually just say to hell with it and just think of the sand as a necessity – like beach sand in your picnic food.

Cheap Eats Clam Spaghetti

To Chicken of the Sea’s credit – I found that the “sand” contained in their baby clams in a pouch was much, much smaller than the type I’ve had in other canned brands. The baby clams themselves are pretty decent quality. They aren’t grainy or overprocessed like some I’ve had and for the most part they are whole and fairly tender. The color looks like what you’d expect for clams of this size.

I know a lot of folks don’t like clams. I’m partial to smaller clams… once they get any bigger than a quarter, they start to become gross and squishy (I hate mussels, by the way). Have you ever had raw clams? I had it once at a sushi restaurant in SF. I had to spit it out in a napkin in order to refrain from blowing chunks.

Cheap Eats Clam Spaghetti

So back to the recipe – I just like it because it’s simple. You can make a pretty nice clam spaghetti lunch in about 1/2 hour. Other additions to consider are mushrooms, brown onion, tomatoes and other seafood like shrimp. The addition of some wine helps the flavor a ton, but I didn’t list it as a major ingredient because I only use it if I happen to have an open bottle around. Just make sure to cook the alcohol out of it.

I sometimes use Asiago or Romano cheese instead of parmesan if that’s around as well. If you like creamier sauces you could easily make an alfredo out of it, or add some cream / milk to thicken it up. I sort of like this dish in it’s lighter form.

The recipe squeaked by just under $3. The score of 6 is for the Chicken of the Sea Clams – they’re just too much of a luxury item even though they’re useful. You can also use them in clam chowders and dips for parties (sour cream, ranch seasoning, water chestnuts and green onion). I really like the foil packs as opposed to canned variety – but it needs to go on sale before I’ll buy them.

Price: $2.97 for recipe, $1.00 per 3.5 oz pack
Cheap Eats Score: 6/10

17 Responses to “Chicken of the Sea Clams”

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  1. Brian Says:

    We put vermouth in ours instead of wine. You’ve always got an open bottle of that around (or an excuse to open it) don’t you?

  2. Andie Says:

    I loved the clams in a pouch! :) I use them to make a red sauce with wine and two small cans of tomato sauce. Mmmm! One of my favorite go-to dishes for a quick nice meal.

  3. yummyyum Says:

    I do something simmilar, but will throw the olive oil in the skillet, and throw in a few anchovy fillets and let them desolve in the hot olive oil before adding the clams and noodles, gives a nice kick to the flavors!

  4. cybele Says:

    Yeah, it’s the sand that usually turns me off of clams.

    It’s been a long time since I had pasta with clam sauce … now I’ve got a craving.

  5. Cheap Eats Editor Says:

    brian – hehe, I always have a open bottle of SOMETHING around…

    andie – Yeah, I have been thinking of trying a red sauce with clams as well. I’ll try it when they go on sale next time.

    yummyyum – that’s interesting with the anchovy filets… I wonder if that would make the addition of the clam “water” unnecessary. I’ve been meaning to get some anchovy filets to try them out in recipes. I’ve never used them!

    cybele – I have had some cans of clams with unbelievable amounts of sand. The pouches did have sand, though it was “smaller”… Sand is the main reason I don’t make dishes with canned clams too often.

  6. yummyyum Says:

    update to my anchovy idea, a friend who is currently living in Tailand turned me onto another option: Fish Sauce… generally made with anchovies, has a simmilar flavor, would be a good addition instead of anchovy filets. just don’t look up on the net how fish sauce is made, or you might never try it!

  7. Bill Says:

    Where you gettin’ the parsely?
    Grow your own? Dried?
    $.05 seems cheap
    Costs around $.90-1.50 around here for a small bunch good for a few meals.Freshness and practicality usually mean one or two uses.
    That is for Italian but the regular is about the same.
    When I was a young’n it used to be free in the produce section
    and I think people(women-Moms) only used it as a garnish for “company” meals.

  8. Cheap Eats Editor Says:

    yummyyum – hey yes, I’ve been using fish sauce for awhile… very common where I live. but i always thought it’d be too strong for clam sauce. and yes, i know how they make it. =)

    bill – if I get it at albertson’s or ralph’s it does run around 79 cents or more for a bunch. I only use a tiny quantity for dishes like this, and wrap the washed parsley in a paper napkin and store it in a ziploc. So it’ll last me 5 meals or so. But if you have a larger ethnic supermarket around, try there. At the chinese market near me the vegetables are insane cheap. 35 cents for an enormous bunch of the italian variety. another example, at the Max Foods near my parents house, sometimes brown onions are 20 cents a lb, vs. 79 cents at ralph’s…

  9. mehringer Says:

    Love your site, but what the hell is a brown onion. We must not have those in Oklahoma.

    Hope you’re feeling better soon.

  10. Jim Says:

    Raw Clams, Habanero Sauce and a pocket knife. One of lifes finer pleasures!

  11. Lauren Says:

    I usually make a very similar white clam sauce whenever I have an extra can of clams and want a quick, easy meal. I buy Snow’s canned clams, and I have yet to find any noticeable or bothersome amount of sand in them, but maybe I’m just lucky. Also, ready-made seasoned parmesan mixes for garlic bread (or the ones that come with some brands of frozen ravioli) will pretty much replace all of the seasonings and eliminate any chopping or mincing, so whenever I have some I just use that.

  12. brian Says:

    not only do canned clams have sand in them,so do fresh whole clams. some people only like the clam strips because they do not have the stomach that contains the sand.

  13. knfree Says:

    My husband and I cooked this and loved it! We used smoked baby clams because we couldn’t find the Chicken of the Sea baby clams and it was very good. We also put about 3 T of fresh lemon juice in the recipe and that made it really amazing. This will definitely be one of our “go to’s”.

  14. Fran Ripish Says:

    Please Please do Not repeat Not put cheese on clams, crab, or most other seafood. They have a delicate taste and flavor and the cheese is overwhelmingly powerful. Nice recipe though, as authentic as it gets.

  15. yummyummm Says:

    Fran:
    there are mild cheeses that work fairly well with clams, parmasan cheese being more salty than anything else. I would frown on something like cheddar, but a mild or salty cheese i could see go well with most seafoods.

  16. elenaki Says:

    I just found this website for the first time and I just had to reply to this thread.

    So clams with a spicy tomato sauce has been one of my all time favorite cheap eats.

    -I saute onions and garlic until softened. (I only use olive oil in my cooking) About 2 tbs of olive oil for this recipe.
    -add a couple of tablespoons of any white wine, if i have any.
    -simmer until the reduced wine looks a little syrupy
    -add a can of del monte diced tomatoes with chilies
    -simmer until juices reduce by half.
    -add any kind of canned/pouch of clams/baby clams with liquid. (2 pouches or 1 small can)
    -cook until clams become semi-firm and the clam juice appears to have mixed in well with the rest of the tomato sauce.
    -add salt and pepper to taste and serve with your favorite pasta.
    -And I agree Fran, please skip the cheese. Citrus is a great accompaniment to any seafood.
    Feel free to add parsley at the end but I also skip this cause it’s difficult to find on sale, unless I visit my local ethnic market that usually sells produce at lower prices (which I should be doing more often anyways).

    I hope someone else will find this recipe and enjoy is as much as I do (Thanks to my dad for the recipe.)

  17. andrewsangst Says:

    In regards to the parsley, I’ve grown my own for years.I live in Maryland and the winters are mild enough that my parsley is available year round. It’s extremely easy to grow from seed and once established, requires no additional care from me…




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