great advice from some clammy folks so far.
the first question is whether you want small hardshell clams (the relatively round ones), or softshell clams (the elongated ones with an external siphon).
for the hardshells, which is what you probably have available this time of year, i like to purge my clams submerged in lightly salted water after scrubbing for a few hours in the fridge. no cornmeal or anything added.
maybe it's because the water isn't very salty, or maybe like pac says they're ready to go from the store, but my clams have never been gritty doing it this way.
btw, mussels and some barnacles have beards; clams do not.
now, like my clammy buds have said, when they've warmed a bit on the counter, tap them if any are slightly open. if they close, they're good. if they say open, they might be bad
if they don't close, an experienced nose can tell if they're bad. they might just be asleep from the cold fridge. but for a newbie, chuck 'em.
then comes the fun part.
you can broil them, bake them, grill them... wait, that's for shrimp.
take a deep saute pan; crowding them is ok, then over medium heat in a bit of oil or fat (evoo, canola, peanut, bacon-yumm), toast you're aromatics such as garlic, shallots, and/or onion just a little, add just a splash of white wine or water or clam broth or seafood stock-about a quarter cup and then optionally add in some butter, fresh herbs such as parsely, thyme or better yet lemon thyme, or maybe basil or thai basil (if doing a thai thing, then also add a bit of ground ginger and lime juice). the style and herb combos are up to you.
you know what you're doing in the kitchen as far as combos go, so i don't need to go any farther with that.
ok, so, pop the cleaned clams in the saute with the liquid, turn the heat to high, cover tightly, and wait 5 minutes.
take a peek, and as soon as 3/4s of them open up, recover the pan and shut the heat off. wait another 2 minutes and the rest should be opened up.
those that aren't go to the bin. or as mentioned, are steamed a minute or so more after the rest are plated if they smell ok. if after that and they still are closed, chuck 'em no matter what.
plate, or maybe i should say in a bowl or deep plate the clams, and pour the remaining liquid over top. serve with crusty bread for sopping uo the liquid.