Shore Food: Clams

Clams are one of Cape May, New Jersey's unsung treasures. They're one of the area's biggest seafood catches.

Whether you buy them or go clamming and catch the clams yourself, if you want to eat them, you're going to have to open them and it's no accident that clams have a hard, tight shell. It's their only defense against all the critters who would love to gobble up this gastronomic delight.

How to coax those shells open?? Here's a little trick:

  1. Start first by cleaning the clams - soak them in cold water for an hour then scrub the shells thoroughly with a brush.
  2. Then, pop the clams in the freezer until they are barely frozen. (another hour or two.)

Now you've weakend their defenses and you're ready to pry them open.

  • Hold the thick side of the clam (where the shells come together) in the palm of your hand.
  • Press a narrow knife along the seam of the clam. If the clam's been frozen enough, a little pressure will do the job. Never press hard - you could end up with a nasty cut.

(For safety's sake, you can put a cloth towel in your hand for protection.)

  • When the knife slides through the crack in the shell, work it forward then backward until the clam shells can be easily parted.

Do this over a dish to catch any juice - do NOT throw this liquid away!

  • Once the clam muscles at either end of the clam have been cut, pry open the clam.

  • Use a smaller knife and scrape out the insides into the bowl with the clam juice.
  • Drain the clams and separate the meat from the juice. Let any grit settle to the bottom of the clam juice then slowly pour it off into another bowl.

Now you're ready to cook up these little devils.

Most Cape May restaurants serve their own special versions of clam chowder so, when you visit, make sure to order a bowl.

And every September, during the Food and Wine festival, there's a Chowder Cook off. If you're a clam chowder lover, you won't want to miss that!

One of our favorite clam recipes is a very easy Clam Stew that we've adapted from Biba Caggiano's Trattoria Cooking.

Saute some garlic and fresh parsely in olive oil, add a half-cup of white wine and some of that clam juice you saved. Let it bubble for a minute or two then throw in a large can of skinless tomatoes, chopped into small pieces. Let that simmer for about 5 minutes, adding a few dashes of cayenne and black pepper for some zip.

Then stir in about a dozen chopped cherrystone size clams. The stew's ready to eat in three minutes. Serve over some toasted Italian bread placed in the bottom of a soup bowl.

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