When it comes to seafood, clams are one of those ingredients that people know and love well. And while they might seem intimidating to cook, once you get used to it, you will never think twice about picking up a bunch to eat at home. Who says you can only have them at the restaurant?
Clams are considered invertebrates which means they are an animal without a backbone. They belong to a particular family called “mollusks” and are also known as shellfish. I like to think of that part as self-explanatory, but for those that do not know. The clam is sandwiched between two shells.
When eaten raw, they are shucked just like an oyster. Should you be cooking them, the steam created by the liquid inside them turning to gas opens them up. It is also the telltale sign that they are done.
Clams are briny, succulent, and sweet which makes them a fan favorite.
Common Types of Clams
At the seafood counter, you will most likely a variety encounter hard shell clams, so that is what we will go over here. Keep in mind there are many types of clams out there to try and cook!
Littlenecks: The smallest of the bunch, these guys measure in about 1-inch across. They are most often eaten raw on the half shell because they are sweet, tender, and great on their own or with a squeeze of lemon and not much more. These tend to be the most expensive variety and you will get 7-10 per pound.
Cherrystones: This clam is the next size up. They are usually 1-3-inches across. These are a bit meatier while still sweet and tender. This variety is perfect for stuffing and broiling with garlic and breadcrumbs, in pasta, and as a raw bar item. These will generally give you 6-10 a pound.
Quahogs: This variety varies in size and can be 3+ inches across or as big as your hand. Often times you will get 2-3 of them per pound. These are best chopped up and used for soups or stews, chowders, and anything else with long cooking time. A long, slow cook lends itself to these as it gives its tough meat time to tenderize and melt in your mouth with each bite.
Here are a couple of outstanding recipes using clams:
I will put these in bullet points for easy referencing:
They must be cleaned! Scrub the shells with a nice sturdy brush.
They must be purged! If you have ever gone clam digging, you know that clams are sand dwellers, as such, they have sand inside their shells which can end up in your food. Before cooking, cover the clams in a gallon of saltwater solution (1/3 cup salt to 1-gallon cold water). Let the clams sit for a few hours. This will let them expel any impurities i.e. sand before you cook them.
Check your clams before you cook. If there is a shell that is open, give it a tap, tap, tap. If it closes, you can still use it. Should the shell stay open, it means the clam has already died, and it should be discarded.
Add clams at the last minute to whatever dish you are including them in. Low gentle heat is best as they don’t need much.
Whole clams are ready when their shell has opened. Keep an eye on this because if you overcook them, they will taste like shoe leather rather than tender and sweet as they should be.
Does opening a clam kill it?
Alright, take a deep breath. When you shuck a clam, you are opening it while it is still alive. In essence, yes you are killing it.
What are the health benefits of clams? Thankfully, these babies are a lean source of protein and they are rich in minerals, vitamins, and Omega-3 fatty acids.