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Everything you always wanted to know about Clams

Enjoyed 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.

Hard Clams

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.


In 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.

Soft 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 size.

• 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.


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