What Are Steamers Seafood?

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If you’re exploring the delicious world of seafood you might have heard or even seen people referring to steamers. They might look similar to oysters and mussels, but how are these shelled critters different?

While mussels, oysters, and clams are essentially all seafood staples, there are a few key differences that set them apart. This article will delve into the differences and similarities between clams and mussels.

Are Steamers Clams or Mussels?

If you’re new to seafood, let’s clear something up right off the bat. Steamers are clams. So, when a reference is made to clams, we’re actually talking about steamers and vice versa.

Clams are called steamers because steaming is the most common method of preparation. In the U.S., steamed clams are usually made with Mya arenaria clams. They’re easy to steam since their shells are so soft.

What’s the Difference Between Steamers and Mussels?

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While clams (or steamers), mussels and oysters are all form part of the mollusk category, there are a few differences to be aware of. Read on as we take a look.


The good news is these shellfish are actually very easy to tell apart, simply by looking at them. This is how:

  • Clams or steamers: These critters have an oval-shaped, stout shell with two halves being the same size. While their shells are light brown, tan or even white, the inside can be a variety of colors. Steamers have a softshell with s siphon that protrudes from the shell. Clams also have a foot (or siphon) that helps them burrow into the sand.
  • Mussels: Unlike clams, mussels feature darker black or blue shells with a rough texture. Mussels have a longer, oblong shape with an iridescent sheen. Mussels have a thicker, harder shell. Mussels don’t have siphons but have thin fibers called byssal threads that allow them to stick to rocks.
  • Oysters: With a rougher texture, oysters are brown, gray or even white. Their shape is slightly more irregular in comparison to steamers.


Mussels attach themselves to piers, rocks ropes and sometimes even other shellfish breeds. Steamers on the other hand live in coarse gravel, mud, compact clay or even medium-soft sand. Both clams and mussels can be found in fresh or saltwater whereas oysters are only found in salt or brackish habitats.


On average, steamers measure between 5 and 7.5” at the time of harvesting. The average mussel on the other hand measures about 3”. If you’re substituting mussels for steamers in a recipe, it’s important to remember to increase the quantity to make up for the size difference.


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Mussels boast a very mild “ocean” flavor. There’s also a sweet, mushroom-like undertone. Since their taste is so subtle, they’re an ideal addition to a variety of spicy dishes such as seafood paella.

Steamers have a salty taste that’s not overpowering. A slight hint of a fishy taste adds additional flavor that accentuates the dish it’s served in or with.

Can Steamers and Mussels be Substituted For Each Other in Recipes?

Since mussels and steamers are similar in taste, they can easily be substituted for each other in a dish. Also, since their sizes are slightly different, you might just have to adjust your quantities. Note that clams are slightly saltier, so you might have to adjust the amount of salt you add.

Common Way to Prepare Steamers

If you’d like to prepare a plate of tasty steamers at home, the recipe is quite simple. Here are the steps:

  1. Soak the steamers in salty water in a cool place for several hours or even overnight.
  2. The water might become murky after a while as sand is discharged from the shell. You can change the water if necessary.
  3. Once the clams are completely rinsed, steam the clams in an inch of water in a tall pot. If you don’t have a steam rack, simply place the clams in the boiling water.
  4. Clams that seem stinky or whose siphons don’t retract need to be tossed out.
  5. Cook the steamer clams for about 5-10 minutes until the steamer shells are wide open. Discard shells that don’t open all the way as this indicates that the clam isn’t fresh and can lead to food poisoning.
  6. Remove the clams from the pot and place them into a serving bowl. Keep some of the broth for dipping the clams into before serving.
  7. Pour melted butter into separate small serving bowls for dipping.
  8. Traditionally, steamers are served with 3 bowls:
  • An empty bowl for the shells
  • A small bowl with broth for dipping
  • A smaller bowl with butter for dipping

How to Eat Steamers

To eat your freshly cooked steamers, follow these traditional steps:

  • Open the shell and remove the cooked clam.
  • Pull the skin covering off exposing the siphon.
  • Discard the shells into the shell bowl.
  • The siphon makes an easy handle to hold the clam. Swirl it around in the hot broth to rinse off any remaining grit. (While the siphon is slightly rubbery, you can eat it if you want)
  • Dip the clam into melted butter and enjoy!
  • A variation on the butter – add minced garlic and parsley!

Variations in Clam Servings

Clams can also be served in the following tasty ways:

Final Thought

Now that you know the difference between mussels, oysters and steamer clams it’ll be easy to enjoy your next seafood dish. When it comes to preparation, the key is to let the steamers soak for several hours to remove any residual grit. Eat your steamed clams while they’re hot and for extra flavor, add a dash of garlic and parsley!

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