Clams in red sauce are certainly a treat, and one we are happy to indulge in any time, any day! Sweet clams are cooked in a rich, flavorful and slightly spicy tomato-based sauce that begs to be mopped up with some homemade crusty bread. This simple dish is bursting with flavor and makes a delicious meal all on its own, or the perfect starter for an elegant main course.
Clams in red sauce is a dish that I always gravitate toward whenever I see it on the menu at a restaurant. It’s simple yet elevated, and I can easily enjoy an entire bowl with a generous serving of sourdough bread on the side (or any kind of bread really, so long as not a single drop of that red sauce goes to waste!).
Thankfully, clams in red sauce (also known as clams marinara) is an easy dish to make right at home and at a much lower price point, too! A few basic ingredients come together for the red sauce, and the clams infuse their own distinguishable flavor that sets this dish apart.
First, what is red sauce made of? And what is the difference between red and white clam sauce? Red sauce is tomato-based and is typically made with tomato paste or tomatoes (fresh or canned), or both. White clam sauce relies more on the clams themselves (many recipes call for clam juice) along with other aromatics and herbs.
They’re both often made with many of the same ingredients, with the main difference between the addition of tomatoes and some spices that add a little heat to the broth.
Ingredients for Clams in Red Sauce:
Fresh wild-caught clams will taste the best, but if you can’t find them, farmed clams are just fine. Saffron adds an earthy and sweet flavor to the broth and you can usually find saffron threads in the herb aisle at the grocery store or order it online.
- Fresh clams (we like Manila clams)
- Olive oil
- Onion, diced
- Garlic cloves, minced or grated
- Tomato paste
- Red pepper flakes
- Dry white wine
- Canned whole or crushed tomatoes
- Lemon zest and juice
- Fresh thyme and oregano, chopped
- Salt and pepper
Let’s Make It!
Clams in red sauce is not too difficult to prepare and requires under 30 minutes of cook time. Make sure to take the time to go clean the clams, rinsing them and scrubbing them with a vegetable brush. Examine each clam and any that are broken or dead (toss a clam if it is not closed). Make sure to scroll down to our printable recipe card for all the details.
This recipe is also called angry clams because of the red sauce and the heat from the spice. You can certainly adjust the heat level to your liking. Simmering the sauce for at least 20 minutes before adding the clams will help develop more complex flavors in the sauce without overcooking the clams.
- Let the saffron release its flavor: Crush the saffron with a mortar and pestle (or rub it between your fingers to break it up) and combine it with 1/4 cup of hot water. Set it aside for 10 minutes to release flavor. Clean the clams at this time and set them aside.
- Make the red sauce: Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high. Add the onion and cook until translucent, then stir in the garlic, tomato paste and red pepper flakes. Cook for 30 seconds then add the wine and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes to reduce. Add the tomatoes, sugar, lemon zest and juice, thyme, oregano, salt, pepper and saffron along with the soaking liquid.
- Simmer the sauce: Let the sauce simmer for 20-25 minutes, then remove the lid and add the clams. Simmer for a couple of minutes until the clams open. Toss any that don’t open and ladle the clams into bowls and serve with lemon wedges and garlic bread.
Tips and FAQs:
- If using dried thyme and oregano, reduce the amount of herbs by half.
- When inspecting the clams: Make sure they don’t smell fishy. Fresh clams have a clean ocean smell. Toss out any that are dead or have broken shells. If any clams are open, give them a tap and wait a few seconds. Live clams will close within a few seconds after you tap them. When they’re fully cooked, they’ll open up. Toss the clams that are still closed after cooking.
- What does clam sauce taste like? The red sauce has a rich tomato taste, lightened up by the lemon, white wine and aromatics. The saffron and red pepper flakes add their own distinct flavor; add more red pepper if you’d like the sauce to be a tad more spicy.
- Is clam juice and clam sauce the same? No, they are not. Clam juice is the leftover juice/liquid after cooking clams, essentially a clam stock or broth. Clam sauce is what we would call our red sauce (or white clam sauce).
- Saffron needs liquid to bloom and release its flavor. You could simply toss the saffron into the tomato sauce and it will bloom in the sauce but we find that the flavor is better if you bloom it in hot water before adding it to the sauce.
Clams in red sauce is a dish we crave. The sweet clams infuse the broth with deep flavor, and this will forever be a favorite. Happy cooking!
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Some More Recipes we are Sure You Will Love:
- Manhattan Clam Chowder: This brothy, low-calorie clam chowder is a lighter version than the traditional chowder made with cream. The soup is packed with chopped clams, veggies and herbs!
- Seafood Lasagna: Seafood, pasta, béchamel sauce, repeat. You’ll love all the delicious layers in this seafood lasagna!
- Baked Wolffish Recipe: Wolffish pairs beautifully with our white wine lemon butter sauce, and it makes an impressive and delicious dish.
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- 1/4 teaspoon saffron
- 1/4 cup hot water
- 4 pounds clams
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 yellow onion
- 4 to 5 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 can (28 ounces) whole or crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- Crush the saffron with a mortar and pestle then combine it with 1/4 cup hot water. Set the saffron aside for at least 10 minutes to release the flavor
- Rinse the clams and scrub them with a vegetable brush. Discard any broken or dead clams that do not close. Set the clams aside.
- Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 30 seconds.
- Add the wine and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes until partially reduced. Add the tomatoes, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, thyme, oregano, salt, pepper, and saffron along with the soaking liquid. If the tomatoes are not already crushed, crush them with a fork or potato masher.
- Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer the sauce for 20 to 25 minutes.
- Remove the lid and stir in the clams. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes until the clams open. Discard any clams that do not open.
- Ladle into bowls and serve with lemon wedges and garlic bread.
- If you use dried oregano and thyme reduce the amount of herbs by half.
- Inspect the clams closely and give them a good sniff with your nose. They should not smell fishy. Fresh clams have a clean, ocean smell. Toss out clams that have broken shells. Toss out dead clams. If any clams are open give them a tap and wait a few seconds. Live clams should close within a few seconds after you tap them.
- We used Manilla clams in this recipe, It is easy to tell when Manilla clams are finished cooking. They open up when they are fully cooked. If you see any clams that don't open after you are finished cooking then toss them out.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 409Total Fat: 8gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 152mgSodium: 2956mgCarbohydrates: 17gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 59g
Nutrition information is a guideline only, is calculated automatically by third-party software, and absolute accuracy is not guaranteed.