Why Hello There, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes Quick Tips. Today’s topic is going to be pretty focused on the comestibles of the briny deep, so if you’re someone who doesn’t like seafood, or can’t eat it for religious reasons, it’s probably not going to be very useful to you. Then again, I strive to make my posts a perfect blend of “useless” and “entertaining” to begin with, so if you wanna keep reading, feel free!
Today we’re gonna talk about Clams. What are they? Where do they come from? Do they bleed?
Yes, thank you, Bruce.
The answers to those questions are “Fish”, “The ocean”, and “maybe, it’s hard to say because there’s a species of clams called “blood clams” that fuck up my ability to Google this shit at midnight.” (The actual answer is “Yes, but their blood vessels are so small that by the time you’ve cut one you’ve already dealt massive tissue trauma.” ) Huh. Never thought I’d have to write “massive tissue trauma” on my cooking blog, but you learn something new every day. What was I talking about ?
Clams, You Weirdo.
Ah yes. Probably the most popular bivalve to be brunched on, clams are a form of shellfish, specifically a bivalve. Bivalve comes from the Latin meaning “Two-doored”, so bivalves are sea creatures that live inside a shell made of two parts. Modern scientists, sick of explaining that “valve” used to mean “part of a door” and not “thing you have to turn to open doors in Resident Evil games”, have recently renamed the class Pelecypoda, or “AXE-FOOT”, because it turns out marine biologists are secretly Kickboxing fans.
You may be saying to yourself “Jon, you rambling madman, I know what clams are.” To which I say “THEN WHY DON’T YOU WRITE ABOUT THEM? I DON’T EVEN LIKE CLAMS!” But as we are both separated by time and distance breached only by this digital record, neither of our pleas can be heard by each other, and so we must both continue, disappointed and unsatisfied.
Then again, I've never been satisfied.
ALso, I won't lie: part of the reason we're as late as we are is finding the picture for that joke led to me falling into a 10-minute Hamilton YouTube bender.
It turns out, as with most things you’ve always just assumed are simple binary-choices, like “black or white” “Man or woman” “DC or Marvel fan”, there’s a surprising variety of options in your culinary cupboard when it comes to clams. Technically, there are something like 9,000 species of bivalves in general, but most aren’t actually clams, and even among clams, not all are edible. There’s something like 12 varieties of edible clams, but to be frank, as I am mollusk-averse, let’s knock that number down to like, 6, alright? We all have places to be.
Let’s get a couple things out of the way: first, a lot of clams are region specific, and second, because of this, a lot of dumb stuff happens with clam naming. Hard Shells are also called “Quahogs”, which is what they named the town in Family Guy after, which is why they had that episode where the town mascot was a clam.
You remember that episode, right? Season 2? A Mere...FOURTEEN YEARS AGO?!
This is kind of stupid, because there’s another, totally different kind of clam called the Ocean Quahog, so named because it kinda looks like hard-shells. Anyway, hard shells are found mostly on the American East coast, they gotta bunch of fucking names, and are typically the kind of clam you get in clam chowder. They’re supposedly pretty mild, with some brininess and sweetness. If you want to eat them raw, feel free.
These kind of clams are often called “steamers”, but so are Manila clams, because, again, clam names are really dumb. They’re also called “Essex” clams, because in addition to growing on the East coast of the US and Canada, they grow on the shores of England.
Now, all clams can have “grit” problems, where sand gets into either the shell or the clam itself. There’s some tips to fight it below, but it’s a particular issue with soft-shells, partly because they can’t fully close their shell. Just make sure to clean them really well. They’re typically eaten steamed, duh, and dipped in melted butter.
There are two distinct types of razor clams, because, again, clam naming is a fucking clown fiesta. My growing etymologically derived rage aside, this distinction is actually pretty understandable: one type of razor clam grows in the Pacific Ocean, and one grows in the Atlantic. The Atlantic are a little narrower, and look kind of like lip-stick.
A fact not pictured here.
What? You expect me to show you everything whenever I mention it?
Razor clams can be a real pain in the ass to catch and clean, so they’re best enjoyed when someone else makes them. If you HAVE to cook them, they’re not the kind you serve raw: sautée them, broil them, fry them, whatever, but you want them cooked.
Geoducks, (pronounced “goo-ee-ducks, because apparently the order of vowels means NOTHING to clams), are native to the Pacific Northwest, and are fucking monstrous. The Chinese call them “elephant nose clams’, because geoducks stick WAY out of their shells. The average one has a 7 inch-wide shell, and is at least another 7 inches of clam meat. The whole shebang weighs 2 pounds on average, and they can get even more insane: geoducks have been recorded as long as 3 feet and weighing 8 pounds.
They called them "Elephant Nose" because they didn't have a word for "Human Penis made of Squid Meat."
How do you eat them? Basically any way. Geoducks are used in soups, they’re sliced thin for sushi, they’re chopped up and fried, ‘cooked’ in ceviche…in essence, there’s so much meat on a geoduck that it reverts to “normal” fish treatment.
Surf clams are called that because they don’t dig as deeply as other clams, so their shells wash up on the beach with the surf all the time. And also because they placed Silver against famed surfing legend, Johnny Tsunami.
Who, if you didn't watch the movie, or have forgotten, is actually the guy on the LEFT.
Yeah, Shang Tsung from Mortal Kombat is Johnny Tsunami.
Surf clams are rather firm and chewy, so they’re not eaten raw very often. They’re much more likely to be fried up and served as “clam strips”, or end up as canned clams to be added to chowders and so on.
Manila clams are named that because they’re actually from near Manila. Their scientific name includes the Latin for “from the Phillipines”. They also grow along the coast of Siberia, and recently the West coasts of Canada and the US. Well known for their love of boxing, Manila clams are called “Steamers” because of their long stays in saunas after bouts.
Nah, they’re just pretty cool looking when served freshly steamed, so it’s a popular usage. But, they, like the geoduck, are also served basically every way you can: raw, in pasta or soup, fried, you name it. The Killer in Manila might actually be food poisoning.
GENERAL CARE FOR YOUR CLAMS
Good, Great, Grand, we’ve all learned some shit about clams. So how do we eat them?
Well, in general, the rule is “as close to death as possible.” Their death, not yours. The longer a clam’s been dead, the more likely things have gone bad. This is why you’re told to throw away so many clams while cooking them: if they don’t close while you’re washing them pre-cooking, then they’re dead, and you should toss them. If they don’t open when you cook them…Look, I’m not a scientist. But I can Google them. APPARENTLY, if a clam or mussel doesn’t open, while conventional wisdom says to throw it out, that wisdom may be a simple matter of “Repeating what came last.” The instruction to “throw out shellfish that don’t open” first started appearing in cookbooks in the 1970’s. Specifically, in 1971. A single book said it, and then, over the decades, everyone started repeating it. In general, I think it’s because of a noble reason: bad seafood will FUCK you up.
"A one-in-six chance of death" levels of fucked up.
And some clams that don’t open, you don’t WANT to open: they may be full of mud, or they’re rotting in the shell. But these are relatively rare occurrences, while some clams…just won’t open. Something like 1 in 10 clams won’t open despite being fully cooked. So the real answer is, if your clams aren’t open after cooking, you can spend the extra 3 minutes setting them aside, and forcing them open, and checking each one to see if it’s still good. If that sounds like too much work, or you wanna play it safe, then just toss ‘em.
You’ll also want to store clams you’re planning to cook in cold water, if you got them semi-fresh, and depending on the variety, sprinkling some cornmeal into the water may help the final dish. If you want more specifics, you can check out plenty of resources online. Me, I got a little sick after eating NORMAL clams, so I’m probably just gonna stick to chicken when I want fried strips.
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MONDAY: TURKEY TETRAZZINI, THE DISH THAT…CERTAINLY WAS A DISH.
NEXT THURSDAY: SHIT. I HAD A PLAN, AND I FORGOT IT. CHESTNTUS! I REMEMBER NOW, I WANTED TO TALK ABOUT CHESTNUTS.