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There are two basic varieties of clams – Hard Shell Clams and Soft Shell. There are several sub-varieties based primarily on where they grow as well as on the size of the clam (clams are measured by the diameter of their shell).
The neck is the siphon through which clams collect nutrients and soft shell clams have a longer neck than their hard shell cousins. Because of this, the shell of soft shell clams can’t close completely. Soft shell clams found in the Atlantic include the ubiquitous steamer.
Other East Coast hard shell clams include (smallest to largest) littleneck (<2 inches), cherrystone (a little bit larger at about 2 1/2 inches) and the quahog, a.k.a the large or chowder clam (3 inches or more).
The most notable west coast hard shell clams are the pismo. These are found on (you guessed it) Pismo beach. Small butter clams are found further north in the Puget Sound area are small and very tender clams. Soft shells found on the west coast include the razor clam (there is an east coast clam called razor but this is not a true razor clam) and the geoduck clam (pronounced gooeyduck). The latter is a large six inch clam that can have a neck as long as two feet.
In the colder East Coast and Pacific Northwest waters, clams are available year round. Further south on the West Coast, the season ranges from November to April. When buying hard shell clams, tap the shell and the clam should close. If it doesn’t, it is dead. Soft shell clams should retract and move a bit when the protruding neck is touched.
Fresh clams can be gritty. You can soak them in water with a bit of cornmeal to help purge any grit inside the shell. Make sure that you add a little salt to the water (clams are, after all, saltwater animals). Use about 1/3 of a cup of salt in a gallon of cool water. You don’t need much cornmeal – two tablespoons or so. The clams will feed on the cornmeal and expel the grit and such that are inside the shells.
For a chowders and soups any clam will do but I feel that the smaller the clam the better. They are sweeter and give the chowder a more delicate flavor. Cooking clams should be done carefully over low heat to keep them from overcooking and getting tough. They don’t take very long to cook and just about the time the shell opens the clam is done.
4 ounces clams = 84 calories, 1g fat, <1g sat fat, <1 mono fat, 14g protein, 3g carbohydrates, 64mg sodium, 39mg cholesterol
January 28, 2008