Summer shellfish feasts: clam recipes

by Lauraine Jacobs / 10 January, 2013
Make the most of shellfish this summer by creating your own feast.
Fresh clam fritters with classic tartare sauce
Fresh clam fritters with classic tartare sauce, photo Elizabeth Clarkson/Styling by Kate Arbuthnot

We’re good at keeping food secrets in New Zealand. As a nation of foragers who have grown up harvesting pipi and tuatua along the sandy coastlines during our holidays and beach excursions, we’re often reluctant to reveal the source of our summer shellfish feasts.

Recently, however, the menus of chefs in the know have exposed a little-known range of native surf clams. Half a dozen species – the small sweet diamond clam, a roundish moon clam, the large meaty surf clam, the emperor’s scroll clam, a venus clam and the more familiar tuatua – are harvested from the ocean floor in the food-rich surf zone in several coastal regions.

Ant Piper, a Marlborough engineer and inventor, has been researching and working for more than 20 years to find a method to gather these shellfish from waters that can be up to 12m deep. He has developed a non-invasive hydraulic clam pump and scoop that moves along the seabed beneath his boat, liquefying the sand and scooping up the clams without damaging the shellfish or the sea-floor. This technique replicates the natural disturbance of the tide and ocean swell.

Once aboard the vessel, the clams are graded before being immersed in tanks with circulating seawater to keep them in optimum condition. With his son Isaac, Ant has set up a private company, Cloudy Bay Clams, to pack and distribute the deliciously sweet clams, either fresh or partly steamed and vacuum-packed to selected wholesalers and retailers. The clams are also in high demand in Australia and Hong Kong. They are harvested in surf off Cloudy Bay and Pegasus Bay, and there are plans to harvest off the Foxton coast, too.

While in Marlborough recently, I visited Cloudy Bay’s pack house on the edge of the coast. Looking at the vast seawater tanks, I wondered how this resource had managed to remain a secret for so long. But even though the word is out now, the company’s judicious management and harvesting should ensure these clams are available to future generations.

Although strict quotas apply in most areas, shellfish are there for the taking around our coastline. Freshly dug tuatua or pipi harbour a little sand, so soak them in a bucket of fresh sea water for about four hours so the shellfish can purge themselves. The most popular way to cook shellfish in summer is to make them into fritters. Many people steam them open, then grind or chop the meat before adding it to the batter.

Often, those fried fritters, with their twice-cooked meat, can be pretty tough. Years ago, my mother told me how to get around this. She puts her pipi, once purged, into the freezer for at least two hours. When she takes them out, they pop open as they defrost and the raw meat is easy to remove and far better for adding to the fritters or soup. This method of opening shellfish is perfect for both the following recipes.

When cooking clams, don’t add extra salt until you’ve tried them. I found no need to add salt to either recipe. In Blenheim, I ate a creamy clam chowder at the Hotel d’Urville, and chef Maree Connolly generously shared her recipe.


  • 75g butter

  • 1 medium potato, diced

  • 1 leek, chopped

  • 1 onion, diced

  • ½ stick of celery, diced

  • 1 small bulb fennel, diced

  • 1 sprig of thyme

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped

  • pinch saffron

  • ½ cup white wine

  • 500ml fish stock

  • 1kg diamond clams or tuatua, steamed and meat removed

  • 1⁄3 cup cream

  • ½ tsp ground white pepper

  • 4 tsp lime-pressed olive oil

  • 2 tsp chives, snipped

Heat the butter over a low heat. Add the potato, leek, onion, celery and fennel and allow them to sweat (cook without colouring) until transparent. Add the thyme, bay leaf, garlic and saffron, simmer for 2-3 minutes, then add the wine. Add the stock, bring to boil and simmer until the potato is cooked. Remove from the heat and stir in the clam meat, discarding the thyme stalks and bay leaf. Cool slightly and purée in blender (a blender will give a better result than a food processor). Strain through a sieve.

When reheating, add about 1⁄3 cup of cream and salt and pepper to taste. To serve, heat 4 bowls and pour in the reheated soup. Spoon a teaspoon of lime-pressed olive oil and a few snipped chives to the centre of each plate.
Serves 4.
Wine match: Marlborough oak-aged sauvignon blanc.


  • 1kg surf clams, tuatua, diamond or any other clams

  • 4 tbsp butter

  • 1 onion, finely chopped

  • pinch of cumin

  • 2 eggs, beaten

  • 3 tbsp self-raising flour

  • zest of 1 lemon, finely grated

  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon or lemon thyme)

  • freshly ground pepper

  • 4 tbsp grapeseed or vegetable oil

If using the vacuum-packed Cloudy Bay surf clams, remove from the packet and split them open through the hinge of the shell. (If using freshly gathered clams, see the notes above.) Add all the meat and juices to a food processor. Briefly pulse until the clams are roughly chopped. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a frying pan and add the onion and cumin. Fry gently until golden. Remove from the pan, then cool. Beat the eggs, then add the flour and cooled onion. Mix well, then add the reserved clam meat, lemon zest and herbs. Season with pepper.

To cook the fritters, heat the oil with the remaining butter and when hot, drop tablespoonsful of batter into the pan. Cook 4 or 5 at a time, turning over after 3 minutes to cook the other side. Remove to a paper towel and keep the fritters warm. Serve with classic tartare sauce.
Makes about 10-12 fritters.
Serve with ice-cold lager.


  • 1 egg

  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard

  • juice of ½ lemon

  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 250ml grapeseed oil

  • 250ml olive oil

  • 1 tbsp chopped tarragon

  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley

  • 1 tbsp rinsed capers

  • 1 tbsp chopped gherkins

Make a mayonnaise by placing the egg, mustard, lemon juice and a little salt and black pepper in a food processor. Whiz together, then slowly pour in the oils through the feed tube, keeping the motor running. Remove to a bowl and stir in the herbs, capers and gherkins. Season to taste.

Eating out in Marlborough

  • Herzog Restaurant This sophisticated winery restaurant is surrounded by vineyards and stunning gardens. Don’t miss being cosseted in the main restaurant where a locally sourced degustation menu is cooked with European flair, designed to match the hand-crafted Hans Herzog wines. A more casual nearby bistro is open for lunch and dinner year-round. (

  • Hotel d’Urville Restaurant One of the region’s most popular eateries, this is set in the centre of Blenheim on the ground floor of a boutique hotel and features local produce cooked by chef Maree Connelly. (

  • The Swiss Guy at Hunter’s Vineyard Restaurant Alain Hauswirth has been cooking and catering in the region for many years, and now he’s running the Hunter’s winery restaurant. The simple menu is ideal for long lazy lunches in the garden and the restaurant also caters for special events and parties (

To source or order Cloudy Bay Clams, see
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