Where Are All the Clams?

by Bekah Angoff

The Northern Quahog is so essential to New England living becasue so much of our history revolves around it. It is not only used in some of our most famous dishes (clam chowder and stuffies to name a couple), it was also used as currency and jewelry among the Algonquin Tribe (wampum). As a nod to their ubiquity, people from all over the country clamor (pun intended) for them year-round, but there are times where hard-shells are hard to find. Let us help break down the 'why' to this break in the supply.

the digging mechanics of hard shell clams

the digging mechanics of hard shell clams

Northeastern hard-shell clams are just like any other shellfish, as they have a seasonality to them. They spawn in the spring and are fattest as sweetest into late fall. How they differ from mussels and oysters is that they burrow in their habitat in order to steer clear of predators. Clams achieve this by complex muscle movements from their tongue-like foot choreographed with the shape and movement of the shell (see photo). Once imbedded in the sand and/ or mud, they reach their siphons to the opening of the sea floor bed where they can filter feed for phytoplankton and other edible matter.

 

 

From L to R: countneck, topneck cherrystone, quahog 

From L to R: countneck, topneck cherrystone, quahog 

To harvest during peak time, diggers look for a ‘tell’ in the form of round dimples in the sand during low tide to signify a fat clam below and use bull rakes (or in some cases dragging methods) to pull up the clams. From here, they are sorted and bagged according to size. What may surprise some is that all of the names that we use for clams’ sizes refer to the singular Mercenaria mercenaria species. Yes, a littleneck, cherrystone and quahog are all the same clam of different ages.

the foot (bottom) provides digging FUNCTION, while the siphon (Top) stretches to feed and release SPAWNING material

the foot (bottom) provides digging FUNCTION, while the siphon (Top) stretches to feed and release SPAWNING material

During the winter, these methods are still used, but with extreme caution. When the water temperature dips below 30°F, the clams go dormant meaning they burrow a bit further than the length of their siphon, covering themselves completely as they do not need to feed. Harvesters are still able to reach the clams when weather permits, but if there are any that are too small to harvest, there is little chance that the clams are able to return to their bunkers. The shock of the ice-cold air can also kill the clams, as they are not active enough to dig back into the sand immediately.

Another reason to cautiously harvest during the winter is that future populations need to be preserved. A clam reaches sexual maturity at about a year old and is classified as male. As the clam ages, it will then change over to female sex characteristics, so if all of the young population is harvested, there will be no hope for a successful spawn. Spawn occurs in the late spring to early summer, when waters reach about 65°F. The clams will burrow in shallower bunkers and their siphons will return to feeding position, which is then optimal for safe harvest.

So, yes, there will be clams this winter, but limited amounts when the weather is not at extremes. Be sure to keep in contact with us via email or by phone for up to date availability, and when the supply returns, #eatmoreclams.

Recipe: Cultured Lobster Butter with Spindrift Oysters

Round in flavor, round in physique!

Round in flavor, round in physique!

We have just started to thaw from the polar vortex that followed an impressive storm, so what do we do? We take the opportunity and roast some oysters with a healthy dose of butter!

Compound butters are amazingly versatile and are quite easy to throw together and have on hand. They can be simple with just some herbs and citrus zest, or they can be as complex as some we have made in the past, such as our uni butter. This time, we get just a little fancy with some cultured butter, as the tang pairs quite well with a mineral oyster, and we round it out with sweet lobster meat to crank up the indulgence. Winter bod, here we come!

 

Ingredients:

  • 24 ea Spindrift Oysters, washed and shucked in shell
  • 1/4# (1 stick) unsalted cultured butter at room temp, plus one T.
  • 1 c. cooked chopped lobster meat
  • 1 pinch (just a few threads) Spanish Saffron
  • 1 large shallot, finely minced
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 2 T. slices fresh chives, plus more for garnish
  • Salt
  • Cayenne pepper
the rolled butter should look like a sausage

the rolled butter should look like a sausage

In a saute pan, melt the one tablespoon of butter with the pinch of saffron. Once the butter is melted, remove from heat and stir in the lobster meat with a pinch of salt. Allow to cool to room temperature. 
In a stand mixer, whip the stick of butter until it is light in color and fluffy in texture. Gently fold in the lobster meat, shallots, lemon zest, and chives. Season to taste with sat and pepper.
Spread a long sheet of plastic wrap on a flat surface and spoon out the butter into a row no more than two inches wide. Roll the wrap around the butter, making a tuber shape. Tie off one end, and then the other, making sure the wrap is very tight around the butter. Chill overnight before use.
To broil the oysters, line a sheet tray with foil loosely, creating a surface for the oysters so they so not move about while cooking. Slice the butter into thin rounds, making sure to remove any plastic wrap from around the edges. Place the butter on top of each oyster and broil until lightly browned. Garnish with a squeeze of lemon and chives and serve immediately.