In the broadest of terms, a clam is a bivalve mollusk with two hard shells that protect the edible, sweet yet briny, exquisite yet simple, meat within. Found in most coastal areas throughout the world, clams are both a reliable dietary staple and a treasured delicacy. Served raw, baked, fried, poached, roasted, steamed, or in chowders, sauces, or stews, the versatility and relative plenitude of clams render them an indispensable seafood pick with chefs from coast to coast. Our seafood markets are brimming with a number of varieties of clams, some wild, some farmed, and all infinitely tasty. Here are the best varieties of clams and the delicious ways restaurants are serving them this summer!
Atlantic Hard Shell Clams at The Clam, New York, New York
Atlantic hard shell clams (Mercenaria mercenaria), also known as quahogs (pronounced coe-hog), are the quintessential east coast clam. Quahogs are graded by size, with littlenecks being the smallest (approximately 10-12 clams per pound), followed by top necks (6-10 per pound), cherrystones (3-4 per pound) and chowders (1-2 per pound). The Clam serves up its favorite and eponymous ingredient in a number of expected, and unexpected, dishes: littlenecks on the half shell, clam dip with zesty potato chips, clam and lobster sliders, and grilled white clam pizza, to name just a few.
Soft Shell Clams at Island Creek Oyster Bar, Boston, Massachusetts
Soft shell clams (Mya arenaria) are also popularly called steamers, piss clams, longnecks, or Ipswich clams and are native to our northeast coast. The soft shell name is a bit of a misnomer as the shells are more brittle than soft. Soft shell clams are more oblong in shape than hard shell clams and are distinguished by a long protruding siphon, which the clam uses to both feed and filter the water. A bowl of steamers dipped in melted butter is one of the purest joys of a New England summer, and Island Creek Oyster Bar does not disappoint with its Ipswich steamers served with crusty bread for sopping up the every last drop of clammy goodness. [Photo by Michael Harlan Turkell]
Razor Clams at Saxon + Parole, New York, New York
Razor clams, shaped like old-fashioned straight razors, are found both on the east and west coasts. East coast razors (Ensis directus) are known as Atlantic jackknife clams. West coast razors (Siliqua patua) are known as Pacific razor clams and are slightly more oval-shaped than their east coast cousin. Prized in Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Korean cuisines, razor clams are now finding their way onto non-Asian menus on both coasts. At Saxon + Parole, chef Brad Farmerie creates razor clam magic by combining steamed razors and egg salad, served with caviar and grilled bread. Brunch will never be the same.