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Clam cakes are a New England food, most commonly found in Rhode Island although they can also be found in Connecticut, Maine, and Massachusetts. Each clam cake is a deep fried ball-shaped mixture containing chopped clam (usually quahog) and some type of breading combined with various other ingredients to give it a firm consistency once fried. The batter is made from flour, milk, clam juice, eggs and a leavening agent, typically baking powder. As Hank Shaw once described, "think clam beignet, or donut hole. Only savory. Crispy, golden brown on the outside, pillowy and light on the inside. Steam rises from the first bite. The slightest aroma of brine surrounds you. Tiny chunks of clam nestle themselves in the folds of the pillow, offering surprising bites of chewy meatiness as you down one of these little glories after another."
Some people refer to them as "fritters," though these typically contain more clam and minimal breading, and are generally cooked in the home with a frying pan and butter more often than served in restaurants and fully deep fried. Clam fritters are particularly popular during "clamming" season when clams are in abundance and it is legal during limited, specified periods for private citizens to dig their own, and therefore must be used up quickly so they do not spoil.
Clam cakes are often served at take-out food outlets or other informal settings as finger food, with a meal consisting of several cakes, french fries, and cole slaw. This is often served alongside clam chowder. The cakes may be eaten dry, dipped in clam chowder, or with tartar sauce or ketchup.
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