Red Clam Sauce

Red clam sauce is a wonderful Italian seafood sauce to serve with linguine or your favorite pasta.

red clam sauce, clams, and pasta in a bowl

When most people think about clam sauce, they imagine one based on butter and oil — delicious but loaded with fat and calories. This clam sauce recipe takes things in a totally different direction. By adding both canned and fresh clams to your favorite marinara sauce, you have a dish with the perfect level of brininess and enough acid from the tomatoes to prevent an overpowering “fishy” flavor. If you are a fan of white clam sauce, you need to give linguine with red clam sauce a try.

Why Does This Recipe Call for Fresh and Canned Clams?

Some people try to avoid anything that comes out of a can. But the truth is that canning has its benefits. Besides the advantages of a longer shelf-life and a lower price, clams from a can offer great convenience and great flavor. Many people prefer canned clams in recipes that require a longer cooking time.

Of course, that is not to say that you should avoid fresh clams entirely in this recipe (although you can if you don’t want to deal with fresh ones). Serving fresh clams that are still in their shells is visually appealing and adds a flavor that differs from the canned variety.

A trip to the seafood counter to buy clams is a little intimidating for the uninitiated, especially once people realize clams are alive. If it is your first time buying clams, it is worth talking directly with someone who works behind there. If littleneck clams are available, choose them. They are small and sweet. If your local market only has Manila clams, they are acceptable as well. Larger clams, like chowder quahogs, are much too big.

Once you arrive at home with your clams, transfer the clams to a mesh colander and cover them with a damp paper towel. Put in a shallow dish in the fridge and remember to cook within 24 hours.

To clean the clams:

  1. Run the clams under cold water and use a stiff brush to scrub the shells to remove any dirt or barnacles.
  2. Add a third of a cup of kosher salt to a gallon of water and stir. Gently add the clams to the water and wait about 30 minutes. This step will help the clams to get rid of any excess sand left inside the shell.

To cook the clams:

  1. Add olive oil and garlic to a heavy-bottom pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the clams, and give them a good shake.
  2. Cover and continue to shake, approximately 5–8 minutes for littlenecks and 3-5 minutes for Manila clams. The clams are cooked when the shells are open. If all but a few clams are open, remove the pan from the heat and throw away the unopened clams.

Tips for Making and Keeping Red Clam Sauce

  • Save the clam juice. Although the recipe calls for draining the clams before adding the sauce, don’t let that valuable clam broth go down the drain. Use it to pump up the flavor of this recipe or save it to use later.
  • Use chopped canned clams. The smaller pieces of clams ensure that every bite will include a morsel or two. Your guests will want to feel like there is an abundance of clams in the sauce.
  • Linguine is the classic pasta shape to use in this dish, but you can also try fettuccini or spaghetti with red clam sauce. Avoid short or thin types of pasta.
  • Anything with cooked clams isn’t particularly well-suited as a leftover. Try to finish the sauce by the end of the next day to be safe.

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Here’s a list of what you need:

  • Fresh clams or canned chopped clams
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Marinara sauce
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Pasta
red clam sauce ingredients

How to Make Red Clam Sauce

  1. Prepare pasta according to the package instructions.
  2. Clean the fresh clams or drain cans of clams.
  3. Heat olive oil in a heavy bottom pot.
  4. Add garlic and clams.
  5. If using fresh clams, lower heat, cover, and wait until all clams are open. Discard unopened clams.
    clams and garlic in a pan
  6. Add marinara sauce and simmer for 10 minutes.
    clams, garlic, and marinara sauce in a pan
  7. Season with salt and pepper or any other seasoning you like.
  8. Serve over pasta.
a bowl of clams, red clam sauce, and pasta

Love Clams? Try these recipes!

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Check out more of my easy sauce recipes and the best Italian recipes here on CopyKat!

red clam sauce, clams, and pasta in a bowl

Red Clam Sauce

Make this easy red clam sauce and you can put dinner together in no time at all.
5 from 6 votes
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Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Clams, Pasta Recipes, Red Clam Sauce
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 501kcal


  • 12 ounces chopped clams canned or use fresh
  • 1/2 pound fresh clams
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 18 ounces marinara sauce
  • salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1 pound pasta linguine or similar


  • Prepare pasta according to the package instructions.
  • Drain cans of clams or clean the fresh clams.
  • Heat olive oil in a heavy bottom pot over medium heat.
  • Add garlic and clams.
  • If using fresh clams, lower the heat, cover, and wait until all clams are open. Discard unopened clams.
  • Add sauce and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Season with salt and pepper or any other seasoning you like.
  • Serve red clam sauce over the pasta.


Calories: 501kcal | Carbohydrates: 92g | Protein: 19g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 0g | Cholesterol: 6mg | Sodium: 803mg | Potassium: 675mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 615IU | Vitamin C: 9.2mg | Calcium: 49mg | Iron: 3.1mg

About Stephanie Manley

I recreate your favorite restaurant recipes, so you can prepare these dishes at home. I help you cook dinner, and serve up dishes you know your family will love. You can find most of the ingredients for all of the recipes in your local grocery store.

Stephanie is the author of's Dining Out in the Home, and's Dining Out in the Home 2.

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