Shell-Shacked: Woodman's Draws Fried Clam Fans

Woodman's roadside clam shack in Essex, Mass., is in the same spot it opened in in 1914. i i

Woodman's roadside clam shack in Essex, Mass., is in the same spot it was in when it opened in 1914. Joe Douillette hide caption

itoggle caption Joe Douillette
Woodman's roadside clam shack in Essex, Mass., is in the same spot it opened in in 1914.

Woodman's roadside clam shack in Essex, Mass., is in the same spot it was in when it opened in 1914.

Joe Douillette

Woodman's Fried Clams

Freshly shucked softshell clams

 

Evaporated milk

 

Fine corn flour

 

Lard

 

Wash the clams in the evaporated milk. Coat with corn flour and fry in a deep cast-iron pan full of lard.

The menu board honors  "Chubby" Woodman, who the family says invented the fried clam. i i

The menu board honors the tradition of Lawrence "Chubby" Woodman, whom the family says invented the fried clam in 1916. Joe Douillette hide caption

itoggle caption Joe Douillette
The menu board honors  "Chubby" Woodman, who the family says invented the fried clam.

The menu board honors the tradition of Lawrence "Chubby" Woodman, whom the family says invented the fried clam in 1916.

Joe Douillette
Steve Woodman stands by the pickup counter at his family's historic clam shack. i i

Steve Woodman stands by the pickup counter at his family's historic clam shack. Joe Douillette hide caption

itoggle caption Joe Douillette
Steve Woodman stands by the pickup counter at his family's historic clam shack.

Steve Woodman stands by the pickup counter at his family's historic clam shack.

Joe Douillette

It's summertime here in Boston, and I wanted to find the best locally famous place to go get some seafood, so I called my friend Joe Douillette. One thing you should know about Joe: He loves seafood — particularly lobsters and clams.

"Well I grew up on the beach. ... You grow up on the beach, and I think the natural inclination is to want to eat everything that you see," he says. "And then you get into the fried food, and it's like 'Oh my god ... anything fried is good, but a clam fried is heaven.'"

Joe digs clams himself. He is not a seafood professional; he teaches video production to high school kids. But he knows all kinds of clam and lobster shacks around New England.

"Well, I used to work at a clam shack in Marblehead called Flynnies at the Beach, which doesn't exist anymore," he says. "But I fried clams, and I brought calamari to the menu, too, because they weren't doing calamari."

We head up to a place called Woodman's, a roadside clam shack in Essex, Mass., where Joe says the first clam was battered up and deep-fried 100 years ago.

"I don't know what life would have been like without the fried clam, so it's kind of a mecca," he says.

As we pull into the parking lot, Joe says he feels his whole body getting itself ready.

"You imagine the little fat bellies dropping into the oil ... start to salivate ..."

In Woodman's kitchen, standing between vats of hot lard with clams sizzling away in them, we find Steve Woodman. It was Steve's grandfather, the somewhat hefty man they called "Chubby" Woodman, who started it all.

The year was 1914: World War I was getting under way; Babe Ruth was a rookie for the Red Sox. Chubby and his wife, Bessie, opened a new store, selling fried potato chips to passersby.

The nearby mud-flats were full of clams, and after a couple of years, Chubby got to thinking.

"Actually, 92 years ago ... my grandfather came up with the idea of putting some fried clams in his chip fryalator to deep fry 'em," Woodman says, "and on July 4th ... big parade coming through ... he put a big sign out, 'fried clams' ... and sold $35 worth of product that day, and that's the most he took in in any day of operation. So he wasn't a stupid man, so he kept them on the menu."

Since then, five generations of Woodmans have been working here, and a lot of people have come to love those fried clams. The restaurant's won all kinds of best seafood awards. This summer, it's selling about 20,000 clams in a single day on the weekends, with a line out the door and the kitchen staff calling out numbers as they come up.

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