Nectar of the Gods: Ivar's Legendary Clam Broth

January 14, 2017

On cold days here in Seattle, when I yearn for a cup of warmth, I head to the Piers. On Pier 54 you'll find Seattle's legendary Ivar's Fish Bar and Salmon House. It's the fish bar that I cozy up to when there's a chill in the air, or a cold brewing in my chest, and order a mug of salty-savory clam nectar, a simple and oh so satisfyingly delicious broth. It's so tasty I now make batches of it to have on hand both as a sipping broth and to enhance the flavor of fish stews and chowders.

The story behind the famous "nectar" is just as tasty as the broth itself. "In an effort to draw attention to his restaurant (and perhaps use a necessary by-product of cooked clams), Ivar Haglund advertised and sold "Ivar's Clam Nectar" as an aphrodisiac. "Not over 3 cups of Ivar's Clam Nectar to any married man without written permission of his wife. No exceptions," read the sign outside the restaurant. He made it a point to deliver seafood dinners, complete with Ivar's Clam Nectar, to hosts at KING, the radio station that carried his radio show in the late 1940s. The hosts enjoyed the nectar on air and encouraged listeners far and wide to give it a try. Slowly, tales of Ivar's Clam Nectar spilled into newswires nationwide. Not a bad way to make clams with what's left over from cooking clams.

In 2011 Ivar's duplicated the story when it created a tipple for famous Seattle curmudgeon and author Knute Berger (aka "Mossback"). Ivar's took eight "Mossback" clam nectar cocktails to Steve Scher's Weekday Friday news program on KUOW, Seattle's NPR station. Scher, Seattle Times editorial editor Joni Balter, Berger, and Eli Sanders, editor at The Stranger, initially declined to test them. Eventually, each drank two during the show. We didn't allow a third, since they hadn't brought permission slips." ~ Robert C. Marsh, of the Chicago Sun-Times, on Ivar's Clam Nectar, August 1980, excerpted from the Ivar's Seafood Cookbook: The O-Fishal Guide to Cooking the Northwest Catch.

If you find yourself in Seattle, rain or shine, head to Ivar's and try their nectar. If you need to fortify yourself with something stronger, head inside to the Clam Digger's Lounge and try the Mossback Clam Nectar Cocktail, a Bloody Mary-like libation featuring clam nectar, Absolut Citron, Absolut Peppar, and Clamato juice that's garnished with a sautéed clam and tomato.

Ivar's Legendary Clam Nectar (Clam Stock/Broth)
Makes 6 cups

"Some folks say that seafood products have the power to make people more virile. We say there's only one way to find out." ~Ivar's

3 pounds Manilla clams, rinsed and scrubbed
8 cups water
1 cup chopped yellow onion (about 1 large)
1 cup celery (about 2-3 ribs)
1 cup chopped carrots (about 1 medium)
1 bay leaf
3 black peppercorns
Kosher salt

Combine all the ingredients except for the salt in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Strain the broth, reserving the clams, and season to taste with salt.

Note: I freeze the remaining clams to use in fish soups and chowders.