The clam is a bi-valve mollusk of the Pelecypoda class that digs in the sand. Although native to both fresh and salt water, saltwater clams are considered far superior for eating purposes.
Clam comes from the Old English clamm, meaning, “bond” of “fetter” relating to its tightly clamped shell. Scientific clam names include “Spisula solidissima”, (surf clam), “Arctica islandica” (ocean quahog), “Mercenaria” (hardshell clam), “Myarenaria” (softshell clam), and “Tapes philippinarum” (manila clam). Market names include surf clam; harshellclam: littleneck, topneck, cherry-stone, quahog, chowder; softshell clam: softshell belly clam, lpswich clam, steamer; and Manila clam.
Native Americans carved clamshells into beads, and used them as currency or wampum (Algonquian meaning “white string of beads”), and introduced colonists to the concept of clambakes.
The National Marine Fisheries located in Milford, Connecticut, pioneered clam farming around 1930. Commercial hatcheries gained their foothold in the Northeast in the 1960s. Most commercially – available clams are nowadays raised on farms. Since the shells are built of calcium deposits, it’s no wonder that clams are a good source of calcium, and also high in protein.
Enjoyed as a food source since prehistoric times, there are over 2,000 varieties of clams. Name a clam and there is a market for it. Surf or sea clams go into the processing sector for chowder or clam strips. Softshells go to New England restaurants and markets for the much sought-after summertime “steamers”. Most hardshells find their niche at raw bars, or on the specials menu at restaurants nationwide. However there are two main types of clam: hard-shell and soft-shell. Hard-shell clams generally live in deeper waters, whereas the soft-shell resides in tide flats. Cherrystones, littlenecks, topnecks, and chowders are the common market names for the various sized of hardshell clams. These clams are harvested by hand with rakes and with hydraulic dredges from the Canadian Maritimes to the Gulf of Mexico. The market for littlenecks, cherrystones, topnecks, and ocean quahogs has been stable for the past few years, and experts predict more of the same for the near future. Soft-shells are generally not eaten raw. The siphon neck protrudes from soft-shells, so they cannot completely close their shell. Clams are fairly sedentary and remain in one spot. Clams yield up its full body for consumption – muscles, intestines - all are eaten.
Clams are soft bodies covered with a protective shell. Clams live on the bottoms of lakes, oceans, and streams in many parts of the world. They feed on tiny water plants, and plankton.
Clams reproduce sexually, and in most species, each clam is either male or female. The male releases sperm and the female releases eggs. The sperm unites with, and fertilizes the eggs in the surrounding water, or in the gills of the female. Fertilized eggs develop into tiny, free-swimming larvae. The larvae, also called veligers, eventually become mature clams. In some species of clams, the same individual clam produces both sperm, and eggs.
Clams are found year-round in various forms, including canned (minced, strips, and whole meats) fresh (both shucked meats and strips), and frozen (chopped, strips, and whole meats). Clams are best in cold-weather months, as they are susceptible to bacteria in summer months. However clams are much easier to dig in summer, so they are usually less expensive during warm weather seasons. Whether shucked or unshucked, clams are highly perishable, and should be eaten, and/or cooked, as soon as possible.
Cold water clams are meatier, and have a longer shelf life. Warm water clams are just the opposite, since they grow faster.
Shucked clams should be plump, smell fresh, and feel heavy for their size. Avoid those with an ammonia aroma. Clam juice should be clear, with no shell fragments. Geoducks, if you can find them in the market, should have short, fat, unwrinkled necks. Wrinkling indicates they have been out of the water too long, and are beginning to dehydrate. The flesh of clams can range from creamy white, to gray, and should be refrigerated for optimum conditions.
Clams from sandy bottom, have lighter shells, and lighter-colored meats, while darker shells and orange-tinted meats indicate clams from a muddy bottom.
Whole clams, still in the shell, must be sold live. Fresh, unshucked clams should be stored in a porous bag made of burlap, or other natural material in the refrigerator. If you have no cloth bags, store in a bowl covered with a wet cloth in the refrigerator, not on ice. Never store clams in sealed plastic, or submerged in water – they will die. Clams, truly fresh, will last a few days, under refrigeration. Discard any fresh, live clams with shells that are open, or that do not close when tapped, and any with broken shells. For live soft-shell clams, and geoducks, touch the siphon neck. If it moves, it’s alive; if not, discard. You can place clams in a pot of water as a test, and discard any that float.
Cooked clams can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator up to four days. Freezing is not recommended for cooked clams, as they will become extremely tough and rubbery.
Do not freeze clams in their shells. To freeze clams, shuck them, but save their liquid. Rinse with salt water (1 tablespoon of salt to 1 quart of water), and place in a container with the reserved clam liquid, and add additional salt water, so they are completely covered. Frozen clams will last up to three months at 0 degrees F. Thaw frozen clams in the refrigerator before using, never refreeze them.
If clams do not open after cooking, discard them, as it means they were not alive to begin with and may be contaminated with bacteria or toxins. Clams can be substituted for most oyster, scallop, and mussel recipes, and vice versa. The smallest clams are the most desirable for eating raw. The larger clams get, the tougher the meat. Extended heat further toughens the meat, so cook gently at low heat settings. Signature clam dishes include fried clam fritters (also known as fannie daddies and boat steerers), clams casino, and cioppino (seafood stew originating in San Francisco).
|6 to 12 clams||=||1 serving|
|1 quart unshucked||=||1 serving steamed|
|8 quarts unshelled||=||1 quart shucked|
|1 quart shucked||=||6 servings|
|1 quart shucked||=||2 to 3 cups chopped|
|1 pint shucked||=||3 to 4 servings|
|1 pint shucked||=||about 18 clams|
|6-1/2 ounce can minced||=||½ cup drained|
|6-1/2 ounce can minced||=||½ cup juice|
Unshucked clams, to be eaten raw, should be served very cold to facilitate opening the shell. Some prefer lime juice, rather then lemon juice, as a condiment, along with cocktail sauce and horseradish, if you must. If you overcook clams, you might as well eat shoe leather, so add them to the heat last. Whole clams are cooked when the shell opens. If the shell does not open, discard the clam. A chef friend of mine has a tip for tender clams in white chowder. Soak the clams in milk, or cream specified in the recipe, and add them last, along with the cream, cooking only until heated through, without boiling. Larger shells can be boiled and scrubbed to use as serving presentations.
Our Napoleon/Perla Pacifica Baby Clams are delivered to the cannery either precooked fresh, frozen, or shell stock. The shell stock is washed with the temperature, time, and quality of the water being monitored. After the shell stock has been washed, they are shucked by hand, then either offered boiled/smoked.
When the canning process begins, the baby clams are thawed and washed; any shell fragments that are detected are removed. Smoking comes from natural hardwood, usually “cherry” wood. Our clams are smoked for 30-40 minutes, and then they are manually culled, sorted, and graded. The time schedule is very strict to keep bacteria from growing. Empty cans and lids are received, and inspected for contamination, and defects. The cans are filled with the smoked baby clams manually and weighed. Oil is added to the cans. The cans are then sealed hermetically to prevent recontamination through poorly made seams. Each can will go through the thermal process. A cooking process is done under pressure to commercially sterilize the product. After the thermal process, the cans are cooled in sanitized water. The cans are then dried, and ready to be labeled, and cased.
Our Napoleon Tiny Smoked Clams are delicious, rich, and smoked. These are a delightful appetizer/snack, garnished with a tropical sauce, or served on canapé toast. Try our Perla Pacifica Boiled Clams in a chowder, or over pasta.