Happy National Clam Chowder Day!
Celebrating National Clam Chowder Day makes us want to grab our spoon, crackers and dig in! The Chesapeake Bay clams are versatile and make our chowder flavor complex and savory. Today we explore the clams harvested from Chesapeake Bay.
What type of clams can be found in the Chesapeake Bay? There are four clam species found in the Chesapeake Bay. The softshell clam, the stout razor clam, and the hard clam (quahog).
The softshell clam is also known as a steamer or longneck clam. Soft-shell are categorized as a "soft-shell" because its oval-shaped armor is more breakable than a quahog's or hard clam. They have long siphons and grayish oval-shaped shells that are usually one and a half to three inches long. Their thin, brittle shells open slightly, which can make them sandy, and need soaking before cooking. They are found 5-7 inches deep in mud or dark sand. The mud's level of acidity changes the color of their shell. The darker shells have more flavor. Soft shells clams are very perishable and is why steamers are always cooked. There are usually 12 softshell clams in a pound.
The hard clam have two species, the northern quahog and the southern quahog.
Northern quahogs, also known as Atlantic hard-shell clams and have a grayish-white shell and are sold by different names depending on their size.
- Littleneck clams are the smallest northern quahog you can buy. Littlenecks are typically one and a half inches wide and have 7-10 clams per pound. Littlenecks are small, tender, and sweet. You can eat them raw on the half shell or steamed in food.
- Cherrystones are about two and a half inches wide and are about 6-10 clams per pound. You can eat them grilled, raw, or stuffed and broiled.
- Chowder clams are the largest northern quahog measuring three inches and bigger with 2-3 clams per pound. Since they’re tough, they’re generally not eaten raw; instead, they’re cooked and chopped for chowders.
- Southern quahogs can be up to six inches long and live in intertidal zones of the Chesapeake Bay. They have a heavy white shell and can be eaten in the same manner as northern quahogs. The Southern Quahog shell is much thicker and heavier than the Northern Quahog.
Hard clams can live up to 46 years and prefer saline water and cannot survive if the salt content is too low. Clams reproduce in the summer when the water is warm and food is plentiful.
The razor clam has a sleek, sharp-edged soft shell that are brittle and are part open. There are two common types of razor clams are Pacific razor clams and Atlantic razor clams. Atlantic razor clams are thinner and milder, and sweeter in flavor (and less common) than Pacific razor clams. Their shells are up to eight inches long and resemble a straight razor. Their shell is delicate and they can be difficult to clean. Atlantic razor clams can be steamed or grilled.