In my home, clams make a weekly appearance on our dinner table. You see, I am married to a commercial shellfisherman, bivalve extractor, bayman; I am married to a clammer. Brad has been digging clams off the north shore of the island for nearly 30 years. A tougher-than-the-average-bear kind of guy, he heads out onto the Long Island Sound year round — unless Huntington Harbor freezes solid.
Clams are one of the few local foods that are truly available fresh all year long. Hard shell clams or quahogs (Mercenaria mercenaria) should not be confused with soft shell clams or steamers (Mya arenaria). While fairly similar in flavor, there are notable differences. Soft shell clams bury themselves deeper in the sand, necessitating that long siphon. The siphon, which can become tough when steamed, never seems to fully retract into the shell, leaving the shell open a bit. Perhaps this is why steamers get gritty. Soft shell clams have naturally brittle shells and can be fragile to store. A hard shell clam, like its eponymous name, has a hard firm shell. Lightly touch a slightly gaping hard clam and it should immediately shut tight. Gaping clams that do not close upon touch are dead and should be discarded. Freshly dug hard shell clams can be stored in a refrigerator (dry, in an open bowl) for up to two weeks. Trust me on this one — I am living and breathing proof. If you don’t personally know your clammer, then ask your fishmonger when the clams were dug. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation closely regulates the shellfish industry. Bags of clams must be properly tagged, indicating exactly where and when the clams were harvested and merchants are required to save these tags. If the clams are fresh, your fishmonger will happily share this information.
What’s for dinner? A seemingly never ending bounty of clams has forced me to get creative; à la Bubba, clams “are the fruit of the sea.” There’s raw clams, steamed clams, baked clams, fried clams, white clam sauce, red clam sauce, clam stew, clam cakes, clams casino, clam dip, Buffalo clam dip, New England clam chowder, Manhattan clam chowder, Long Island clam chowder, clam fritters, clam risotto, clam pie. “That, that’s about it.”
My go-to source for bivalve inspiration? The Long Island Seafood Cookbook. Written by J. George Frederick in 1939, this local seafood bible has an entire chapter (27 pages!) dedicated to clams. With a fresh local supply available all year long and a timeless resource for recipes, clams should always be the answer to “what’s for dinner?”