Clamshells had a sacred significance to Native Americans and were later used to make wampum-beads used for money. There are two basic families of East Coast clams-hard-shell and soft-shell. Hard-shell clams are also known by their Native name, quahog (pronounced co’hog). Hard-Shell clams are typically sold according to size, and the size determines the way it is most commonly used. Clams are harvested in a variety of ways, depending on specific habitat, and local law. Inshore, they are often harvested by hand tools, such as rakes, shovels, or tongs. Offshore, dredges are most commonly used.
Clams, which are high in protein and virtually fat-free, are perhaps the most versatile seafood in the world. They can be served baked, fried, stewed, stuffed, raw on the half shell, in chowders and soups, steamed… the uses are as infinite as the imagination.
- Little Necks: The name “little neck” comes from Little Neck Bay Long Island. Little Neck is the smallest and most expensive Eastern hard shell, averaging about 10 to 12 clams per pound. Little necks are best served on the half-shell (raw) because they are the most tender and have the sweetest flavor.
- Cherrystones Named after Cherrystone Creek on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Larger than littlenecks (average three to five clams per pound) and can be eaten raw, steamed, or in chowder. Cherrystones are the perfect size for stuffing.
- Quahog or Chowders: Quahog is the largest clam. The meat is tough but as the name implies, they make flavorful chowder. They are usually chopped, minced, or diced for use in chowders, clam cakes, or fritters.
Steamers: Also known as mud, long-neck clams, or in New England, “pisser clams” because they spray out of their long necks. Soft-Shell clams can’t completely close their shells because of a long rubbery neck (or siphon). Steamers have a thin brittle shell and come in a variety of sizes, from about ½ to 3 inches across. As the name suggests, this type of clam is usually steamed, but it can also be shucked and then sautéed or deep-fried.
How To Shuck A Clam
- Hold a clam in your gloved palm, rounded-side up, with the shell’s hinge toward your wrist.
- Working over a bowl to catch the juices, press a clam knife or a dull pairing knife into the gap between the shells.
- Twist the knife (moving the handle from horizontal to vertical) to separate the half-shells.
- Cut the muscles on each side of the hinge, then cut the interior muscles to free the clam.
- Scrape away meat into the bottom shell.
- Remove and discard upper shell.