Ocracoke Clam Fritters

Fresh soft-shell clams (“steamers”) are still fried at seafood shacks all over Ocracoke Island on North Carolina’s Outer Banks in much the same manner they were when the Manteo Indians inhabited the region centuries ago. However, since most clams that are iced and shipped to markets around the country tend to be tough and stringy (and often off-flavored), I’ve come to prefer the perfectly acceptable and tender baby ones that are canned. Be warned that the fritters will toughen quickly if fried more than about a minute on each side, and they must be served as hot as possible. Out on Ocracoke, locals eat the fritters (mounds of them!) mainly by themselves, but I must say I love to dip mine in a little tartar sauce.

Ingredients

The Tartar Sauce

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon drained sweet pickle relish
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon minced scallion
  • 2 teaspoons drained, minced capers
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

The Fritters

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Salt to taste
  • Cayenne pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill (or 1 teaspoon dried dill weed)
  • 1 cup canned baby clams, drained
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • Vegetable oil for frying

Method

To make the tartar sauce, mix together all the ingredients in a bowl and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Chill until ready to use.

To make the fritters, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cayenne pepper in a bowl and stir in the dill. Add the clams and egg yolks and mix till well blended. In another bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer till stiff but not dry peaks form and fold them into the clam mixture.

In a large skillet or electric fry pan, heat 1 inch of oil to 325°F or till a small piece of bread tossed in browns quickly. Drop the clam batter by tablespoons into the oil and cook till the fritters are browned, about 1 minute. With a slotted spoon, turn the fritters over and cook till the other sides are browned, 1 minute longer. Drain on paper towels, then serve the fritters immediately with tartar sauce on the side.