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LONG ISLAND CLAM SCHOOL
Everything you always wanted to know about Clams
as a food source since prehistoric times, there are over 2,000 varieties
of clams. There are two main types of clam: hard-shell (Mercenaria mercenaria,
from the Latin merces meaning "pay") and soft-shell (Mya arenaria).
Hard-shell clams generally live in deeper waters, whereas the soft-shell
resides in tide flats. Soft-shells are generally not eaten raw.
In culinary use, clam most often refers to the hard clam (Taxonomically,
Mercenaria mercenaria) but may refer to other species such as the soft-shell
clam Mya arenaria. They are eaten raw, steamed, boiled, baked or fried:
the method of preparation depends partly on size and species. Clam chowder
is a popular soup in the U.S. and Canada. In Italy they are often an
ingredient of mixed sea dishes, or are eaten together with pasta.
Long Island Clams
Locally, clams are harvested in Long Island's South Shore bays from
Nassau county to the Great South Bay and out to Southampton Town; in
the Peconic and Gardiners Bay system on the East End; and along the
North Shore in Long Island Sound from the eastern tip Long Island to
the western towns in Nassau county. Clams are also transplanted from
Raritan Bay to certified Long Island waters where they are re-harvested
after a specified period of time.
The hard clam has many alternative names in addition to quahog. It
is also known as the Northern Quahog, round clam or chowder clam. Furthermore,
in fish markets there are specialist names for different sizes of hard
clam, corresponding to their different culinary uses.
The hard clam (or northern quahog) lives in shallow coastal bay waters
in areas with a soft sandy bottom. The clam burrows into the bottom
substrate leaving only the siphon exposed to pump water containing food
and oxygen and to dispose of waste. Scientists estimate that hard clams
reproduce in 1 to 2 years, and that the average number of years required
to reach a commercial size is about 3 years in the New York, Rhode Island,
Massachusetts area. Actual growth rates are dependent on a number of
factors like water temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen, the
quality and quantity of available food, and other factors.
Preparation and cooking of Hard Clams
There may be more ways to eat clams than shrimp. Sorry, Forrest Gump.
Hard clams are entirely edible, unlike sea clams whose stomachs must first
be removed. Overall they are fairly easy to prepare and require little
preparation, often no more than a rinse, though sometimes it is a good
idea to purge these clams by putting them in salt water with a little
corn starch which will reduce the amount of grit in the clams. However
this may be unnecessary as many markets and shellfishers purge the clams
themselves; purchasers should ask the market if they are partially sandy
and if they have been purged.
By far the easiest way to prepare these clams is to steam them, and this
is highly recommended for those who have little experience. If you feel
determined to have them fresh on the half shell, which is highly recommended,
you will first need a clam knife. One easy way of preparing these clams,
for those who like to keep things simple yet tasty, is to take a handful
of littlenecks or cherrystones and wrap them in tinfoil with a little
butter and garlic, maybe some chopped parsley and throw these onto a grill,
and simply check on these from time to time until they open and then enjoy.
This perfect for individual servings and as appetizers, and there is next
to no cleaning up.
coastal areas of New England, restaurants known as raw bars specialize
in serving littlenecks and cherrystones raw on an opened half-shell,
usually with a cocktail sauce with horseradish, and often with lemon.
Sometimes, cherrystones are steamed and dipped in butter, though not
as commonly as their soft-shelled clam cousin, the "steamer".
Littlenecks are often found in-the-shell in sauces, soups, stews, "Clams
casino", or substituted for European varieties such as the cockle
in southern European seafood dishes. The largest clams, Quahows or Chowders,
with the toughest meat, are used in such dishes as clam chowder, stuffed
clams, or are minced and mixed into the dishes that use the smaller
more tender clams.
Clams - Steamers
Soft-shell Clams, Mya arenaria, popularly called "steamers",
"soft shells", "long necks" or "Ipswich clams",
are clams that live buried in tidal mudflats most famously on the coast
of New England but their range extends much farther north to Canada
and to the Southern states.
M. arenaria has a calcium carbonate shell, which is very thin and easily
broken, hence the name "soft-shells" (as opposed to their
beach-dwelling neighbors, the thick-shelled quahogs).
It can be found living approximately 20cm under the surface of the mud
and extends a siphon, which is used to draw in marine water that is
filtered for food and expelled, up to the surface. The holes through
which the water is drawn can often be seen at low tide and water may
be visibly ejected from them when pressure is applied to the surrounding
mud. These holes are helpful in locating the clams for digging.
Preparation and cooking
Soft-shell Clams are edible and can be enjoyed in a variety of dishes.
Before cooking, it is generally recommended that clams are stored in
saltwater for a few days to facilitate the expulsion of sand from their
digestive tracts. Some recommend that cornmeal is added to the water
to give the clams something to filter from it.
Soft-shell Clams can be eaten steamed, fried, or in clam chowder. "Steamers"
(steamed Soft-shell Clams) are an integral part of the New England clam
bake, where they are served steamed whole in the shell, then pulled
from the shell at the table and dipped, first in the clam broth in which
they were cooked, to rinse away sand, and then in butter.
Common Clam Types
The smallest clams are called littlenecks, medium clams are called
cherrystones, and the largest are called quahogs or chowder clams. Top
necks are clams that fall between littlenecks and cherrystones, though
this designation is seldom used except in markets.
• Quahog Clam (also Quahaug): Its name is derived from the Narraganset
Indian word poquauhock, found in English texts as far back as 1753.
Also known as the round clam, this is an East coast favorite. Generally
recommended for eating raw and in chowders, depending on the size.
Quahogs are hermaphrodites, meaning they are born of the male sex
and change to female as they mature, remaining female for the rest
of their lives. Smaller clams are best for eating raw. Quahogs also
include Littlenecks and Cherrystones, which are simply smaller in
• Littleneck Clam: Small quahogs less than 2-3/4 inches are
so named for Littleneck Bay on Long Island, New York. Generally recommended
for eating raw and in chowders.
• Cherrystone Clam: Up to 3 inches, these are named for Cherrystone
Creek, Virginia and take up to four years to reach their size. Generally
recommended for eating raw and cooking. This is usually what you get
when ordering clams on the half-shell.