Clean and purge clams using the instructions in my Fresh Clams Guide. Cultivated clams should only need one, 20 minute, soaking. Discard any clams that are chipped, don’t close when you gently tap them on the counter, or float when you soak them.
Add bacon to a cold, heavy-bottomed pot, place over medium-high heat, and cook until just starting to brown. Add shallots and a few grinds of black pepper and continue cooking until shallots are softened and bacon is lightly crisped. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant.
Pour the lager into the pot and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom to release any browned bits. Add clams and thyme sprigs, cover, reduce heat and steam for 5-10 minutes (depending on variety), gently shaking the pan a few times, until clams have opened. (I start checking a few minutes early and remove them as they open to avoid overcooking.)
If some of the clams don’t open, cover and continue cooking for an additional 3-5 minutes, checking them often. Discard any clams that haven't opened after this time.
Place clams on a serving platter and pour about half of the steaming liquid over them. Sprinkle with parsley. Pour the remaining liquid in a bowl for dipping. Serve with lemon wedges and grilled bread.
You can substitute soft shell steamers for the hard shell clams in this recipe but bear in mind that a.) they will likely need a longer soaking time to purge them of their sand, and b.) they will steam in less time, closer to 3-5 minutes since their shells are thinner.An equal quantity of Manila clams can also be used, and they will also require a shorter steaming time.
To grill bread slices:
Slice a baguette on the bias into long, 1-inch wide slices. Brush with olive oil and grill over direct heat for 1-2 minutes per side, until toasted and lightly charred in areas. Watch it carefully - the bread will burn quickly!