Long ago, before modern refrigeration and mandatory sanitation standards, it was accepted practice to only eat raw shellfish in cooler weather, in months with an “R”. The primary reason was that the bacteria count in the water tends to be higher in warmer months. Another reason to not harvest oysters in warmer months is due to this being the period when oysters spawn. When oysters spawn they tend to be watery and lack the robust salty-mineral flavor that oyster-lovers enjoy. The months with “R” rule should be adhered to today when collecting local shellfish as they are not inspected. Some states offer a testing program for locally (non-commercial) harvested shellfish. This service is usually offered through the Department of Agriculture extension programs.
In the United States depuration of shellfish has become an established practice for commercially raised oysters, clams and mussels. The following video about the process of purging clams may be helpful to the home-cook. Another example of an industry standard is the requirement that restaurants and other retail outlets selling oysters and clams are required to save, for ninety days, a record of the point of origin for all shellfish. In the event of an outbreak of illness, the product can be traced to a specific lot number and the corresponding bed location. The bed can be quarantined until such time as it is determined to be safe. According to accepted industry standards in the United States we are assured that eating raw shellfish is safe year round. I prefer to eat most of my shellfish cooked, but I do enjoy clams on the half shell with a bit of lemon.
Here are 3 clam recipes.
Portion 1 dozen Little Neck clams per person.
Wash and check for dead or damaged shells — discard any questionable clam.
1 clove of garlic, crushed and chopped fine
1 Tablespoon of olive oil, heat the oil in a deep pot, add the garlic and cook until golden
add the clams and
the juice from 1 lemon,
a pinch of salt, a touch of crushed red peppers or dash of cayenne
and about 8 ounces of water or, white wine.
Cover this pot and bring to a boil. With a long handled spoon gently stir and turn over the clams. Within minutes the clam shells will pop open indicating that they are fully cooked.
Add 2 Tablespoons of fresh butter and some chopped parsley.
Place the cooked clams into a large bowl and pour the broth over the clams. Serve with a crusty bread a spoon for the briny broth and a fork for eating the clams.
#2 Clams Casino (picture at the beginning of the article)
6 Little Neck clams per person, cut open and detached (shucked)
finely diced medium hot pepper and
finely minced shallots
Top each clam with a little of the diced pepper and shallot.
Blanch 2 strips of bacon to cook off most of the fat. Cut each strip of bacon into thirds and place a small piece on top of each shucked clam.
Place under the broiler to brown off the bacon and just slightly warm the clam.
Splash with fresh lemon juice.
Slurp these deliciously spicy clams with a bottle of good beer. The flavor from the bacon combined with the fresh salty brine of the clam and the spice of the pepper is really terrific!
#3 Manhattan Clam Chowder
Many people are familiar with New England Clam Chowder (the creamy white soup). Few people outside of New York know of Manhattan Clam Chowder, sometimes called Long Island or Philadelphia Chowder (but I have never heard anyone refer to it as either). I prefer the salty richness and the clear tomato enhanced broth of a Manhattan Clam Chowder. It is simple to make and delicious served with crusty bread and butter or a good quality seed and grain cracker.
For 4 servings
4 pounds of fresh clams (12 – 15 Cherrystone clams to the pound) or use 2 — 6 ounce cans of chopped clams
1 large potato, peeled and diced small
3 ounces of Salt Pork chopped fine (you may substitute bacon for the salt pork but bacon is smoked and salt pork is not so the flavor will be different)
1 1/2 cups diced Onions
3/4 cup diced Celery
1/2 cup diced Green Pepper
1/3 cup diced Carrot
1 Tablespoon finely minced Garlic
1 cup peeled, seeded and chopped Tomatoes
Sachet of 1 Tablespoon whole Black Peppercorns, 1/2 teaspoon dried Thyme and Oregano, 1 Bay Leaf, a pinch of Crushed Red Peppers (wrap these in cheesecloth and tie closed)
For any soup recipe you may use canned clams or fresh Cherrystones. If fresh clams are used, wash them and place them in a large pot and add water. Bring the water to a boil and make sure all of the clam shells pop open.
Drain the liquid and use it to cook the potatoes until almost tender.
Render the fat from the salt pork and strain. Use this fat to saute the vegetables until they are nearly tender. Add the garlic and saute briefly.
Add the potatoes, tomatoes and seasoning bag (sachet) to the pot with the cooked veggies. Add clam juice or fish stock and water to total 1 1/2 quarts.
Cook for about 30 minutes, remove the sachet and season with salt and pepper to taste.
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Below is a photo of the point of origin tag for shellfish. You can see the product is WILD LITTLENECK CLAMS, Company name address (in Boston, MA) and contact information, harvest date and location (in Connecticut), how and where it was stored/purged and when it was shipped/sold. Notice the “Kept on File for 90 Days”.