The first time I saw someone wearing a T-shirt that said, “Keep Clam and Carry On” I thought it was either a dyslexic printer or a pitiful attempt at humor. Seems it was neither, for I soon discovered that this humble bivalve mollusk had more going for it than a billionaire’s only child. Gangsters use it as a metaphor to threaten people, (you better clam up!) since the little clammy rascals close immediately when threatened. They live at the beach, (okay, they live IN the beach…) they’re very happy twice daily when the tides come in, (as in, “happy as a clam at high tide”) yet if you shake hands with someone not feeling too well, you might say their hand felt “clammy.” A giant clam is said to have swallowed one of Jules Verne’s characters in a movie, although there has never been a case of a clam eating, biting or even threatening a human
There are many types of clams, most are edible, and the ones we see at the market are typically farmed raised. Wild clams are just a lot harder to harvest as they’re spread out all over the place. In California we see mostly Manila or Pacific clams, sometimes referred to as “western clams.” A western clam is generally smaller than the “eastern” clam, and it’s the eastern clam that finds its way into chowders, mainly due to its considerable size. The west coast variety is often referred to as “steamer” clams.
The coastline of California doesn’t offer as many places to farm clams, oysters and other bivalves so we see a lot of product come in from the Pacific Northwest.
A good clam farm enterprise relies on clean water and some degree of protection from the open water. Tomales Bay, near Point Reyes in Northern California is considered to be the optimal site for clam farming in the Sunshine State, but the National Park Service shut down a major farming operation there in early 2014, and that naturally had a major impact on available supply.
Clams are an excellent source of protein with a single 3-ounce serving providing more than 130% of your daily value of protein as well a major dosage of vitamin B-12. Since most clams we eat these days are farm raised, the risk of them containing mercury is quite low. They’re also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids but also have about 19% of the suggested daily intake limits of cholesterol.
In Season at the Market