This one was definitely a learning experience for me. I haven't worked with clams before, and there's a lot to know about them.
- You want to work with live clams so you know they're fresh. There are tests you can do, like submerging your clams in water (dead ones float) and tapping open ones (live ones will shut).
- If you need to keep them for a while, you actually don't want to submerge them in water since they'll eventually drown.
- Though, I wonder: apparently hard clams (aka quahogs) live intertidally, while the mahogany clams I bought (aka ocean quahogs) live subtidally. That means they live in a part of the tidal zone that is always submerged by water. That "don't submerge your clams in water" advice I found must depend on the type you have.
On the cooking and technique side:
- Smaller ones have more meat-to-shell ratio and are more tender--but are also much more expensive than larger clams (like the ones I bought in ignorance, maybe about 2.5" at their widest point)
- You can still use larger ones to flavor your dishes, but if the meat's what you're after, then smaller clams may be a better choice.
- Clams will pop open spontaneously when they're cooked (if a clam doesn't open when cooked, it's already been dead and should be tossed). However, there are two stages to their popping open:
- 1st stage: the clam pops open just a little. This is when it's done and should be removed from the heat.
- 2nd stage: the clam shell flings itself all the way open. At this point, the clam is overcooked and starting to toughen.
Despite all my scrubbing of the shells, there was also still a lot of scum that was produced when I cooked these clams, the skimming of which was not mentioned in the recipe (Grace Young's book again). I'll skim it next time. Also, now that I know, I'll look for smaller clams next time. Flavor was good though, of course.