Send In The Clams

The Beach

GUEST: Ranger Dan

    [with an Aussie "Crocodile Man" Accent] Low tide. Perfect time for stalking the elusive burrower. Right. Perfect place for his nest right here. We dig. Ooh. Ooh. I've got one now. You're tough, mate, but you're not too tough for me. Ha, ha, ha. Hey, get a squeeze at that handle. Gotta watch out for those jaws. It'll take a bloke's arm clean off.

RANGER DAN: What do you think you're doing, boy?
AB: Oh. Um, hi, uh, Ranger Dan. We're just making a food show here for Food Network.

RD: See that sign? This area's off limits for shell fishing.
AB: Oh, yeah. I know. I mean, we're not going to eat this. We're just here because we like the light.

Water Closed To Shell Fishing

RD: Clams are commensal organisms, son. You know what that means?
AB: Well, yes sir. It means that they ...
RD: It means that they're filter feeders. Lowest rung on the food chain. Right next to lawyers. If it's in the water, it's in the clam.
AB: Yes, sir. I really do understand that. I, I ...
RD: Gonna need to see your permit.
AB: You don't understand, Ranger. We don't have a permit. We're just here because we're making ...
RD: Shootin' a TV show and you like the light.
AB: Yeah.
RD: I'm going to need to confiscate this [clam].
AB: That's my ... I, uh ...
RD: You take this clam, put it in freshwater for a few weeks and it'll depurate.

    That means basically it will self- clean or detox itself.

RD: Pay attention, son.
AB: Yes, sir.
RD: [If] you're going to make a food show, you need to take clams from certified waters, treat them right, cook 'em simple and they can be mighty good eats. [hands him a ticket]
AB: Hey, that's the name of my show. What ...
RD: Have a nice day, now.
AB:[sighs and looks at the ticket] That's a lot of clams.

The Beach "Set"

GUEST: Lighting Guy, Sound Guy, Shell Game Guy

    Clams have inspired a lot of expressions through the years. There's "tight as a clam," "clam up," "clammy hands," and "happy as a clam" which has always kind of baffled me, because the idea of living life in a submarine mud pit while sucking microscopic food out of water with a long snorkel-like siphon just doesn't sound like the good life. But for some reason, it does translate into some really good eats.

    Now my problem with clams usually comes from not being able to select them properly. I don't know. It always just seems like a shell-game that I can never win. [picks a shell up from a shell-game, loses] See what I mean.


    I mean, let's face it. It's easy to tell a razor clam from, say, a geoduck. But when you get into all those other nicknames—littlenecks, breaknecks, cherry heads—I don't know. Things get confusing for me. Of course in this day and age, it's always easy to find expert opinions, if you're willing to look.

All Drivers Must Check in with Receiving Office before Backing into Dock

Fresh Product
6:00 am - 11:00 am
2:00 pm - 10:00 pm

Frozen Product
8:00 am - 11:00 am
2:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Inland Seafood: Atlanta, GA - 11:17 am

GUEST: Robert Pidgeon, Clam Aficionado

AB: Hi, Robert. How are ya?
ROBERY PIDGEON: Hey, Alton. How ya doin'?
AB: I'm good.
RP: Good to see ya.
AB: So I've come to talk clams. 
RP: Well, that's what we're here for.
AB: I have some issues. Mussels are mussels. Oyster are oysters ...
RP: Basically.
AB: ... but there's, like, 20 different names for clams. Are they all different species?
RP: No. Uh, uh. Not at all.
AB: Give me a primer, please.

RP: Well, these are mahogany clams. We also call them golden necks. They're from Maine.
AB: Um, hm.

Mahogany Clams

RP: Grow in very cold waters. These are steamer clams that occur naturally from Maryland to Maine.
AB: Why aren't they closed?
RP: Well, they don't close all the way. The kind of hang out, open a little bit.
AB: These are the ones that are legendarily dirty on the inside, right? Because they stay open.

Steamer Clams

RP: Right. And then manila clams from the west coast.

Manila Clams

AB: Okay. So each one of these are a distinct species.
RP: Very different species.
AB: Is there a lot of difference in flavor between, say, this mahogany and this manila?
RP: I think so but preferences are preferences. Certain people like the mahogany better than a manila. I think the manila is a little less salty ...
AB: Ah.
RP: ... than a mahogany. Pacific is less salinity than the Atlantic.
AB: ... than the Atlantic. That makes sense.
RP: And the mahoganies have a little bit of stronger flavor than our, you know, traditional hard-shell clams.
AB: Okay. Now see, these are the clams that I think of when you think clam, right?
RP: Just about every restaurant in the country, when you say 'clams', you're going to get a hard clam.
AB: Do these all have a different name though?
RP: Yes. And the name is based on the size.
AB: Okay, run me down.

RP: Basically we have littlenecks, middlenecks, top necks and cherrystones.

Top necks

AB: Okay, so we've got, like, toddlers, adolescents, adults and grandparents, so to speak, all with those different kinds of names. Is there a lot of difference culinarily speaking between this guy [littleneck] and this guy [cherrystone]?
RP: A lot of people like a littleneck because it's more tender.
AB: Okay.
RP: It's got a little bit sweeter meat than a cherrystone which is going to be larger, tougher, harder to chew, and probably have a little bit more strong flavor.
AB: So, that makes a great deal of sense. So these [littlenecks] I would eat, probably, raw on the half shell, ...
RP: On the half shell.
AB: ... or I certainly could these [middlenecks], maybe. These guys [top necks] I'd probably cook.
RP: Um, hm.
AB: And those guys [cherrystones] I'd probably cut up into pieces and cook.
RP: Yeah, I would shuck those and use them for chowders and stews.
AB: Okay. So that [cherrystone] would be a great clam chowder clam and that [littleneck] would be a great clam for just eating.
RP: Um, hm.
AB: Shopping for these, any different than for shopping for other bivalves.
RP: No. Not at all. Basically what you want to do is go to a reputable retailer ...
AB: Meaning they keep the tags.
RP: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. You want to make sure ...
AB: There are the bed tags.
RP: ... and have a tag ... All retailers have to keep a tag on hand for 90 days.
AB: 90 days. That contains information, like, where it's from, when it was harvested, the whole kitten caboodle.
RP: That's correct.
AB: Okay. Any other pointers?

RP: Want to make sure they're good and hard. You want tightly closed. You get your shell fish, you tap a couple of them. If they sound like rocks instead of hollow ...

Look For Tightly Closed Hard Clams

AB: Yeah.
RP: ... that's what your looking for. A nice firm sound that doesn't rattle or sound hollow.
AB: Hollow would mean either a dead clam or one that's full of mud or whatever.
RP: ... or whatever. It's not a good thing.
AB: All right. Great. Now that looks like we got about 2 dozen there?
RP: Yeah. It's a 24 count sea perfect clam.
AB: Well, I'm starting off with on-the-half-shell clam so I'm going to take these. Robert? Thanks for your help.
RP: Thank you very much, sir.
AB: See you soon.
RP: Good to see you.

    This collection may represent the best known market varieties, but there are other clams out there.

Fish Tank

    For instance, if you were to dive deep into the south pacific or Indian oceans, you might come across Tridacna gigas* or the Giant Clam which can reach 600 pounds and over a meter a cross. Now the lips of this beast in particular are considered delicacies but they're not always easy to harvest. [model clam eats model diver] Ouch.

The biggest clam caught in the United States, the geoduck,
weighs about 5 pounds and yields over a pound of meat.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Deb Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist

    Since they are mostly protein and completely alive, clam storage and handling is a really big deal. Now like their bivalve brethren, the oysters and the mussels, they do not like ice, they do not like sea water, they do not like freshwater, they do not like closed containers, Sam I Am. What they like is a nice clean open container and just a nice wet towel. How long can you keep these in the bottom of your refrigerator? Well, unless I buy mine from an old man, a pipe and a Pepperidge Farm accent, I'd say two days tops. There is a long term storage scenario involving a zip top bag, some clean clams and your freezer. You can get about a month out of them here but I only suggest you do this if you're planning on either steaming them or using them in soup.
    Now unlike their bivalve brethren, clams live in mud. And because of that, they get dirty. Since they are mud dwellers, most folks think that the first step to preparation is to purge the clams of any inner grittiness. Methods range from a four day soak in sea water to a quick dip in a cornmeal slurry. Now personally, I don't prescribe to these points of few view. Truth is, is it's just not necessary. Today's clam supply—commercial clam supply at least—are as squeaky clean as the inside as a good used car. The outside, eh, that's another matter. There's a good bit of grit on these guys. So as soon as I get them home, I like to give them a bath.
    Now what bath shouldn't finish with a nice towel rub down. Truth is, this probably removes more of the grit than the water does. You know, one of the really nice things about clams, is that like oysters they can be eaten either raw or cooked. Of course if we go with the raw option, you got to get in there.

    A clam shell is his fortress. And as we all know, a fortress can be a very tough place to get in to unless, of course, you know its weaknesses: faulty drawbridge, weak rampart, shallow moat. Now let's consider the clam in the same light. Here we have the hinge and it's flanked on either side—the inside of course—by two adductor mussels. Very tough customers. They hold the shells shut. No entry will be gained there. Physics would suggest that we approach here, the furthest point from the hinge. But, the shell here is so thin and brittle, that it would crumble at the mere site of approaching weaponry. But here, just on the edge of this curve, not only is the shell strong enough to support a breaching action, but there's actually a little slot in which weaponry can be deployed.


Adductor Muscles

Point Of Entry

    Which brings up the question: which weapon? This is a clam knife. And next to a ball-peen hammer, I'd say this is the best way into a clam you can find on the planet. it is designed, 100 percent, for gaining access to an ornery bivalve. Short, stout blade, sharp on one side and a nice big handle which gives you leverage. The problem is, I can't find anything else that this is good for. And as I've said time after time, there's only room for one unique tasker in my kitchen [brings a fire extinguisher into view]. Luckily, there's another piece of cutlery that can gain access to a clam: a regular old butter knife. But, we are going to have to coerce the clams into cooperating. Here's how.

Clam Knife

Butter Knife

    You and I may not think of a half hour in a freezer as being very relaxing. Luckily, clams do.

Into Freezer For 30 mins.

    [voice over] Now, simply insert the edge of a butter knife right at the end where the most curved part of the shell is, next to the hinge, and then lever it open. Do your best not to damage the inner meat with the knife, though. Just use your fingers. Now the meat's only going to be connected at the hinge and at the adductor muscle. Just scrap that off of one shell, if you're going to cook them in shell. If you're going to eat them out of the half shell, you'll want to scrape it off of both sides. There.

    Sure, we could enjoy these little jewels unadorned or maybe with just a spritz of citrus. But hey, why not make up some mayonnaise—you know the one—and spike it up with, maybe, some grated horseradish, some basil, other herbs, roasted red peppers maybe, or what the heck, Chipotle peppers.

2 Dozen Littlenecks

For Mayo Recipe Visit

Roasted Red Peppers
Chipotle Pepper

DD: [takes a littleneck from AB]
AB: Hey! That's going to cost you a couple of clams.
DD: [throws him a cherrystone]
AB: And who do we know that would be packing this for money?
DD: Hey. Fred Flintstone wasn't the only guy who used clams for currency.
AB: Yeah. Apparently not.
DD: In fact, the Latin name for clams is mercenaria which derives from the fact that clams shells were used for wampum.

    Wampum. Ah, that is the ancient Native American tradition of using clam shells as money.

DD: Well, actually, wampum were beads that we carved and polished from clam shells. And the purple ones had the most value. As you can see, purple is very rare on these quahog clam shells.

Quahog Clam

AB: Yeah. Tell me something, how does one get stuck with a name like quahog?
DD: Oh, quahog is a corruption of the Narraganset Indian term which is more like poquaûhock.
AB: Po-qua ...
DD: Poquaûhock. And the early settlers couldn't say it either. In fact, they called all bivalves clamps.
AB: Clamps. I like that. So, is there any place left where I can still spend these?
DD: Oh, the Industrial Revolution wiped out wampum. Someone actually invented an automatic wampum making machine and flooded the market.
AB: Well, I hate when that happens. Well maybe I can come up with something else to do with these. You enjoy.
DD: Thank you.

Clams are very nutritious having 11% protein and 1.7% fat.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Down East Boy
            Uptown Girl

    You may not be able to use wampum to cover the mortgage on your wigwam anymore, but that doesn't mean that these don't have culinary currency. I'll show you what I mean. Go ahead and shuck about two dozen cherrystone clams. Only this time, instead of severing the adductor muscles on both sides of the shell, just separate one side just so you've got the entire clam in one side of the shell. Then ...

2 Dozen Cherrystone Clams

[scoops out flour and bread crumbs]

1/4 Cup AP Flour

1/4 Cup Bread Crumbs
(homemade of course)

[grates cheese]

1 Tbs. Fresh Grated Parmesan

[adds pepper to bowl containing above ingredients]

Fresh Black Pepper

[scoops out salt]

Kosher Salt

[sprinkles over open faced clams]

Sprinkle Over Clams

[adds bacon fat to skillet]

3 Tbs. Bacon Fat
(sissies can use butter)

[adds clams open-side down to skillet]

Fry over medium high heat ...

[flips them over in pan and spoons them onto a plate]

... until the meats are golden brown and the shells slightly faded.


Malt Vinegar
Chopped Parsley

    There. Now a little spritz of malt vinegar and a little parsley and this is ready to go. There. Now before you start complaining about the bacon fat, [eating] mmmm, let me remind you that besides protein and omega-3 fatty acids, this serving of clams delivers as much iron as a like-size serving of beef liver. Mmm. But, unlike the liver, these come on their own little plates.

A "mudder" is a clamless shell that has filled with mud.

    It's tough to talk about clams without talking about chowder. The word's actually from the French chaudière or cauldron. But as a culinary tradition it refers to the pot of seafood stuff that fishermen used to keep going on board while they were out to sea. Now although it's European in origin, this tradition made it across the North Atlantic eventually to Nova Scotia and then into New England where it came to mean any chunky fish or clam stew that had potatoes in it and was enriched with milk or cream. Of course, a whole other tradition evolved on the island of Manhattan where the milk was replaced with tomatoes.

DOWN EAST BOY: Ha. Leave it to city folk to fix what ain't broke.
UPTOWN GIRL: Whatever. You probably can't even spell tomato.

    Heh. I'd love to take of this dispute somehow, but I am not a nutritional anthropologist so I really can't ...

DD: [whispers something into AB's ear]
AB: Are you sure? Okay. Okay.

    So it seems that Portuguese immigrants in Rhode Island are actually responsible for the shift from milk to tomatoes because they had more tomatoes and had them in their cuisine. It seems that folks in New England, especially those from Maine, like to blame things on New Yorkers, so they made the switch in the name calling it Manhattan style clam chowder.

DEB: Well, I oughtta ...
UG: Hey. Hey. You want a piece of me ...
AB: Well, since we've got that cleared up, I'll just leave you guys to talk.

Manhattan style chowder only dates from the 1930's.

    One thing that I have found that all chowders head agree on, is that great chowder starts with salt pork. Now if you can't find salt pork down at the ole megamart, just go with slab bacon. It'll be good but it won't be quite the same. So we've got three ounces here. I'm going to render that, that is heat it slowly until most of the fat comes out of the pieces. Just keep this moving over medium heat. You'll know you're done when you can see that there's a lot fat in the bottom of the pan and a lot of little bitty brown crispy things.

3 oz. Salt Pork

    Now since this chowder doesn't depend on these little jewels, I am going to take them out to keep the fat down. Of course, if you just happen to salt these and take them off to your bedroom at night and, well, never mind. Next in, a cup and a half of onion chopped fine. Just keep tossing these over medium heat until they are a little soft and translucent.

1 1/2 cups Fine Diced Onions

    Once those are soft and golden brown, I'm going to go with 6 cups of russet potatoes cubed. That's about 3 large potatoes or 4 mediums. And just enough whole milk to cover. I usually prep about 4 cups worth. Sometimes you need it, sometimes you don't.

6 cups Russet Potatoes,
Small Dice

Whole Milk Just To Cover

Clams may be found from the high tide line down to depths of 50 feet.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Thing

    Now you can make clam chowder with all fresh clams or you can use all can clams or a combination of the two all depending on the time and money you want to donate to the process. Now in this case, I'm going to use half an half: a 14-ounce can is going to provide kind of the base flavor and some meatiness. Fresh clams—about 3 per serving—will provide, well, freshness and of course eye-appeal. Now since canned clams are cooked during the processing, you don't want to add these to the chowder until the very, very end. Otherwise, they'll get very, very tough. Of course this liquid on the other hand, that's another matter. This we can use to steam the fresh clams.

1 - 14 oz. Can Of Clams

3 Fresh Clams Per Serving

    Most cans of clams have about a cup of liquid in them. If you find that you've got a little bit more, just go ahead and dump it in here. If you're a little short, though, you might want to add some water just in case you run dry. Now here come the clams, 12 of them. And I like to use a steamer basket for this, because it lets me use the smallest pan possible. Smaller pan, faster cooking, right? Okay. Cover tightly and put the spurs to it.

1 cup Clam Juice

12 Clams

THING: [turns on stovetop]
AB: Well thank you, Thing.

    In about 5 minutes you're going to start to see steam wisp out from under this side of this lid. That's when you want to start checking on the clams, okay. Because as soon as they open up, they're ready to come out. If they continue to cook, they're going to get tough, arrg arrag arrgh. That's not the kind of thing you want in your chowder. So keep an eye on it.
    Speaking of keeping our eye on things, it looks like our potato mixture is nice and soft. Now traditional chowder heads are kind of divided about viscosity issues. A lot people think that it ought to be thin and milky, others think it ought to be creamy and in most restaurants, at least, that means adding a lot of, well, cream, which just raises the fat. And once more, a lot of added fat tends to coat the tongue and keep you from tasting the freshness of the clams. So, I'd rather use technology. This way, you can make it as thick and creamy as you like. [uses stick blender to mash the potato mixture]

"Clam up", meaning to keep one's mouth shut,
refers to the tight-mouthed hard clam.

    Well, it would appear that it's time to start checking clams. And of course, if we've got our timing right on everything else then [doorbell] well, everything else should come together nicely. Yep. These we will move right over to the bowl. Let those cool off. This liquid is going to go straight into the chowder base.

    Now I only like to add about half of it before giving it a taste. Why? Well because it's pretty darn salty and I don't want to over salt anything. So ... [tastes]. Perfect. I'll hold off the rest of that for, well, the next batch. It does freeze quite nicely. So, off to get some bowls.

Add Half And Taste

If you catch your own clams, you'll want to strain this liquid first.

    Fold in the chopped clam meat and you're ready to serve. Oh, and of course you don't want to forget your little shell clams right around the edge. And you don't have to stop there. A little pepper is always welcome on chowder as is, well, heck, a little sour cream just to bring out that dairy thing. And heck, I like a little parsley to boot. If you happen to be a big fan of Manhattan clam chowders, tomato is still appropriate. There.

Fold In Chopped Clam Meat

Sour Cream

AB: [to DEB & UG] Now we've got a soup that a down East boy and a uptown girl can get all cozy with. Right? Well, there's always hope on Good Eats. Dig in, kids. Hmmm. Isn't that good?
DEB & UG: [scoot away from each other]


Giant Clam

Domain    Eukaryote
Kingdom    Animalia
Phylum    Mollusca
Class    Bivalvia
Order    Veneroida
Genus    Tridacna
Species    Tridacna gigas

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010