Saturday, March 31, 2012

March 31st: National Clams on the Half Shell Day

There are two main varieties of these bivalve mollusks: hard-shell and soft-shell. Clams are variously named based on their size, region and sometimes personal decision of a merchant. Thus, think of the olive analogy (Medium, Large, Jumbo, Colossal, etc.): It’s best to order or buy by size, not by name.

•    East Coast hard-shell clams (common hard clam, Mercenaria mercenaria) come in several sizes. The smallest and sweetest is the Little Neck clam, which measures less than 2 inches across and is about 10 to a pound. Next comes the medium-sized cherrystone clam or top neck clam, between 2-3 inches across. The largest is the chowder clam (also occasionally referred to by the Narragansett Indian name quahog or simply “large” clam), with a shell measuring at least 3 inches across.

•    A mahogany clam is a marketing name for a small ocean quahog (Arctica islandica), which are harvested off New England close to shore by small boat fishermen. One company has trademarked the name “golden necks” for its mahogany clams. Mahoganies, which typically average about 25 per pound, are about the same size as Manilas, but cost substantially less.

•    Surf clams and ocean quahogs are processed for use in chowders and breaded strips. These clams are dredged off the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts.
The foot of the Stimpson surf clam, a species caught off the Canadian Maritimes, is a delicacy in Japan and China, where it is called hokkigai and served as sushi.
The most common West Coast hard-shells are the Pacific littleneck clam (also know as a hardshell or rock clam), growing up to 2.5 inches across; the pismo, a large clam from California with a minimum legal size of 4 1/2 inches across; and the small, sweet butter clam from the Pacific Northwest. The Manila clam, which is produced in Washington state and British Columbia, was introduced from Asia in the 1930s. The largest clam resource on the West Coast, the Manila produces an annual harvest of about 10 million pounds. In Washington, the Manila is primarily farmed, while most of B.C.’s production comes from natural beds

•    The Venus clam is a species new to the U.S. market. Farmed in remote bays along the West Coast of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, it is placed in racks prior to harvesting to remove any grit. An excellent eating clam, the Venus clam is slightly larger and more economical than the Manila or Little Neck. The Venus clam is graded small (15 to 20 per pound), medium (10 to 20) and large (9 to 12).

•    The soft-shell clam, also called soft clam, doesn’t actually have a soft shell, but a rather thin and brittle one. It also can’t completely close its shell because of a long, rubbery foot (or “neck”) that extends out of the shell. The most common East Coast soft-shell is the steamer clam, commonly called steamers. They are also known as Ipswitch clams. Of the West Cost soft-shells, the most famous is the razor clam (named for its resemblance to a folded straight razor) and the geoduck clam (pronounced gooey-duck)—an odd-looking clam with a shell about 6 inches long, but with a foot that can reach outwards up to one-and-a-half feet.

When buying hard-shell clams in the shell, they must be live. Be sure the shells are tightly closed. If slightly open, a light tap should make it snap shut. Otherwise, it’s dead and should not be eaten. So, too, for soft-shell clams; but to test them, a touch on the foot should make it move. Fresh-shucked clams should be plump with the shell holding clear liquid.
Clams tend to be a bit fishier and stronger than oysters in flavor. Steaming and baking are the most common ways of cooking. All clams need to be cooked gently, else they toughen.

How to open Clams video                    

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