Shellfish are the ocean’s sweetest of treats! With flavors and textures so diverse they defy description, shellfish are among the most delectable foods of the land or sea. While shrimp, crab and lobster are the most popular, I’m convinced few foods can match the bliss lurking in a steaming plate of perfectly prepared clams. Let’s get into clam secrets!
Clam Secrets: Sustainable and Eco-Friendly
Not only delicious, clams (and other bi-valves such as mussels, oysters and scallops) are some of the most eco-friendly food choices you can make! They improve the waters wherever they live and are farmed in an earth friendly way. Delicious and good for the planet, it just doesn’t get any better than that.
Clam secrets start with cleanliness. Most often clams are purchased alive, and seeing that they live in the sand and have been ‘clammed-up’ tight since they left the sea, they need a little ‘house cleaning.’ Start by making a cold bath of water and fine sea or Kosher salt, it should be as salty as the sea (about 3.5%), so dissolve 35 grams of salt (about 2 TBS) to each liter of water, and drop the live clams in. Bivalves aren’t very smart, so they’ll think they’re back in the ocean and start to take in water and spit out sediments, cleaning them of sand and the remnants of their last meal from the inside out. Soak 2-3 times for 15-20 minutes each. If needed you can also scrub the outside of the shell with a brush.
Don’t Feel Like Cleaning?
We also have clams fully cleaned, cooked, frozen and ready to use – not only convenient, they are surprisingly delicious! From a company called PanaPesca, you can keep a bag in the freezer for a great dish in minutes – I also love PanaPesca mussels, and use their baby clam meats in my Linguini in Clam Sauce.
There are at least 8 varieties of clams available in this country, but you’ll rarely be able to find more than one or two varieties at any given time. Hard shell Quahog (pronounced Ko-Hog) clams from the Atlantic are the most common. The smallest and most prized Quahogs for steaming are called ‘Littlenecks’ (1.5–2.25”). Medium sized Quahogs (2.25-3”) are called Cherrystones and also great steamed, and the perfect size for stuffing. Sometimes see Pacific Littlenecks (not quite as tender as Atlantic littlenecks) and Manila clams, an imported clam that also boasts a wonderful texture and flavor. Less common locally are Atlantic Soft Shell Clams (also called steamers, fryers and long-necks) and razor clams. Both of these have open shells and a protruding siphon or foot.
Generally with hard shell species the smaller the clam, the more tender, flavorful, and expensive it will be. When purchasing, all hard shell clams should be closed, or close with a gentle tap. Soft shell species, or those with a protruding foot, will not have closed shells, but should be moving or react to touch.
Preparation is key when it comes to clam secrets. Once you’ve cleaned your clams by the technique discussed above, you can simply steam them in a pan, cook them in pasta sauce, drop into soup, or even cook on the grill. When the clam opens, it’s ready to serve. I stand close by and pick them out as they open so they don’t overcook, then toss back into the sauce, soup or pasta when ready to serve. If your clams do not open during cooking, don’t force them open, they likely arrived dead or full of mud. You’ll want to discard these.
Steaming and Pastas
I like to start a sauce with minced onion, shallots and garlic sautéed in butter. Then add washed clams with a splash of wine and lemon – cover and steam. Serve immediately, or remove them as they open to a serving bowl, finish your sauce or pasta and pour it over the top.
Soak and clean your clams while the grill preheats. Then melt a little butter with garlic and herbs, or any taste combination you like. Carefully place the clams on the grill, using the grid to
balance them as best you can so you don’t lose too much juice when they open. Remove as they open to a serving plate, drizzle with herb butter and serve.
Clams in Soup
Soak and clean clams well and prepare the soup. Then once it’s ready to serve, add the clams and any other seafood. In just a few minutes, your clams will open and be ready to enjoy!
Please share these clam secrets with fellow foodies, ciao!
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