Guest post by Dinova's director of strategic accounts, Janice McEachen.
I recently hosted a clam boil. There are several varieties of clams including geoduck, razor, manila, and more but they aren’t all readily available. Although you see razor clams on the menu from time to time, most often in high end restaurants, they are somewhat elusive. First of all, they have to be hand harvested as the long, narrow and very brittle shell are easily broken by shovels and rakes. Razors are most often found in tidal flats, that are accessible only at the lowest tide. This happens during a full moon so there are only a few nights each moth that harvesting is ideal.
Just for the sake of interest I have to mention a bi-valve that I am not a fan of. At the risk of sounding prejudiced the geoduck (pronounced gooey-duck) is just plain ugly. We don’t see them much (thankfully) here in the east as they are native to the west coast. Most of the geoduck harvested in the US is shipped off to Japan where the neck is a delicacy. These giants can grow up to about 5 pounds but most are harvested from deep trenches at about 1-3 pounds. They can live up to about 145 years old!
There are Pismo clams, manila clams and surf clams but the most common are the hard shell and soft shell varieties easily found in our local waters. Soft shell clams are referred to as steamers as simply steamed and dipped in butter is the most common way to enjoy. Another common preparation for the soft shell clam is battered and deep fried. On the menu you will often see a designation between the whole clam or the clam strip. If you choose the whole clam you get the belly too; strong flavored and a bit slimy, not everyone is a fan. The soft shell clam is also referred to as a “piss clam”, now doesn’t that sound appetizing? The reason for this unfortunate reference is that when they are disturbed the clam ejects a spurt of water before withdrawing deeper into the sand. When we were kids our job was to stomp on the shore right at the water’s edge. When we saw the squirt my grandfather would race over with his shovel and dig them up.
My favorite clam is the hard shell clam, oh so many names for the Mercenaria mercenaria (not a duplication typo!). This is the bivalve we see on the half shell and starring in clams casino. This clam is named by size and there is plenty of confusion surrounding that. The smallest hard shell clam has to be at least 1” wide at the hinge to legally harvest. These are called little necks, or count necks by some, and are often eaten raw. As the clams graduate in size they are called middle necks, top necks, cherrystones, or simply cherries and the largest at 3”+ are quahogs, or chowders. The larger clams get tough so are usually cooked before consumption. Just in case it ever comes up in Trivial Pursuit the quahog is the official shellfish of Rhode Island. And if there are any Family Guy fans out there, no there is not a city by that name. The word quahog is from the Narragansett Indians who also made beads from the shells called wampum.
Don't be afraid to try something new. Happy clamming!