Clams From A to Z: 26 Interesting Things You Didn’t Know

From apnoea to the Italian zuppa, here are interesting clam recipes and facts you can’t miss if you’re craving seafood.

Apnoea. How you catch clams depends on latitude and variety. Where you have tides, you must dig them on a low tide using a sort of fork. Some places, such as Bretagne, France, they still fish under water using the apnoea method. When you don’t have tides, you can also use dredging – but it’s harmful to the environment – as in Italy (Venice) and Japan. Clam farms are now a big business.

Bivalve. Is the primary characteristic – and type – of shellfish: they have two shells. Contrary to oysters, they hide under a body of water rather than attached to a substrate.

Currency. Clams, in particular the Mercenaria Mercenaria, were used as current currency among Native Americans.

Date mussel. It’s considered a Italian seafood delicatessen. The Lithophaga lithophaga has been a protected species since 1998 and it’s forbidden to fish it. It takes from 15 to 35 years to grow into adult size and to dig it one has to destroy the calcareous rocks under which it lives.

Escargot. Among stuffed clam recipes there is a great French recipe, you cook the clams in the oven with “beurre d’escargot” (escargot butter), and herbs, parsley, garlic, scallions and peppers on each shell.

Freshwater. There is also a freshwater variety. The most common one is in Chile and Argentina, but there are also some in Europe and Asia.

Geoduck. It’s a giant variety from North America. The shell is only15-20 cm, but it’s “neck” is pretty impressive and can be as large as 1 meter. It’s very tasty and used a lot in Chinese cuisine (fondue), Korean, and Japanese (Sashimi).

Happy. Happy as a clam is short for “happy as a clam at high tide” – it’s when it gets harder to find then and consequently to eat them.

Italian. Clams are a must of Italian seafood. Just think of Spaghetti alle vongole (can also be “linguine” or “vermicelli”), either white or red (with or without tomatoes), definitely with garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, red pepper and, of course, clams!

Jackknife. It’s a long-shaped variety, almost tube-like clams with a striped shell that opens like a glass case. The Atlantic variety is the best, rare and difficult to dig out: these shellfish are quick in digging in the sand or mud; to dig them out you can throw salt in the holes they use to breathe.

Knife. Clams are best eaten raw. The more robust varieties require a shucking knive to open them. These are special rustproof knives in steel. There are also special gloves you can use. A suggestion: the colder they are, the easier it will be to open them!

Clams From A to Z

Live. If you buy fresh clams, they should still be alive and well closed (or close when you touch the shell). They should smell like the sea.

Ming. It’s a clam famous for its longevity: 507 years. It was first discovered in Iceland in 2006; it’s ocean quahog clam (Arctica islandica, family Veneridae).

Not open. When a clam doesn’t open during cooking, it’s better to let it go: it means it died before and it’s not a good idea to eat it.

Ocean. The biggest production of clams comes from the Pacific, particularly the Philippines (now also farmed in the Adriatic).

Prozac. Scientist Peter Fong, a biologist expert at Gettysburg College, gave Prozac to clams to see how it would affect their sexual activity, it’s still not clear if clams orgasm like humans. He was nominated for a Nobel in 1998.

Quahong. It’s the most popular kind in North America and it’s called the hard clam, Mercenaria Mercenaria. Fish markets give them different names according to their size. Qhahong is generally the largest one, followed by “Cherrystones”, “topnecks” and “littlenecks”.

Row bar. Also called “clam bar”, these are typical in New England, New York and New Jersey. These small shops serve shellfish, especially quahong and oysters. They serve them raw accompanied by a sauce – like cocktail, horseradish or lime.

Sand. If you leave a single clam with sand in it, your recipe is ruined! To clean them right, wash them for hours under salty water and then shake them to get rid of the extra sand. The best thing is to actually wash them at sea: you can buy sea water in stores.

Twelve. Is how far below they can dig in the Mediterranean. Some go all the way down a hundred in the Ocean! They can dig six meters per month.

Up. Not talk, or get silent: or “to clam up”, which basically refers to clams closing their shells when touched.

Vongola. It’s Italian for clams, actually Neapolitan. The Venurupis decussata is big and flashy, it’s the kind people like best. Mussels are from another family, more triangular and also sought after.

Worth. A name, a promise: it’s worth thousands of dollars. We are talking of the pearl a couple found while eating a plate of 10 dollar quahong at a raw bar in Lake Worth, Florida, in 2008. Violet, beautiful and rare, they can be found in New England. Is the most famous website against Scientology. Known as the “Operation clambake”, the name derives from the “clam theory” of Scientologist Ron Hurbard, according to which humans descend from clams and their negativity is related to them and the conflict between staying open or close.

Youtube. Clams are doing great on Youtube. There are at least forty thousand English recipes online. Or else: otters chewing clams, big and weird clams, to how to videos.

Zuppa. Or soup in Italian, “zuppa di vongole” (or “zuppetta”) is the Italian version of the clam chowder, a very popular dish around the world.

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