With two coastlines, Long Island is well known for its shellfish heritage and prized clams. These delicious clams are harvested by clam diggers on the south shore bays and Long Island Sound and sold to restaurants, local supermarkets, and fish markets. If you want the experience of digging your clams, there are places in which to do so. There is no season for clams so you can dig for them year-round. Some of the types of clams you can find there are soft shells, razor clams, and hard shells.
Types of Clams Around Long Island
Hard Shell Clams
These types of clams are also known as quahog and are the quintessential east coast clam. When you go clamming around Long Island you find that these are graded by the size.
- Littlenecks — these are the smallest and you will get about 10-12 per pound. This is the smallest legally harvestable clam. They are about one and a half inches wide. They are generally steamed open and served with a light sauce. They do not have a lot of meat but are good too when served raw on the half shell.
- Top necks — you will get about 6-10 per pound. These are about two to three inches wide and have a briny earthy taste. They are great for baking with seafood stuffing as an appetizer or grilling them open. Some will eat them raw on the half shell with a bit of lemon.
- Cherrystones — you get about 3-4 per pound. This is a very popular form of hard-shell clams and is about two and a half inches wide. They are great to put in pasta sauces but while they can be eaten raw on the half shell, most do not prefer them this way. These are just the right size for broiling and stuffing.
- Chowders — you get about 1-2 per pound. These are what are used in traditional chowders. They are too tough and big to serve raw. They will need a good chop to make them edible. They are over three inches wide.
This is a versatile clam and can be used in a variety of ways such as cooking on the grill and eat them with garlic and butter or raw on the half shell topped with a little cocktail sauce.
These clams get their names from how they look, which is like an old-fashioned straight razor. They are found on the west and east coast. The East coast razors are known as Atlantic jackknife clams. They are a prized clam in Japanese, Thai, Chinese, and Korean cuisines. They are now starting to find their way onto menus that are not Asian. They are thin and delicate both in taste and appearance. They can be steamed, seared on a griddle, or grilled served with a light sauce.
This type of crab has many names and is native to the northeast coast of Long Island. They are referred to as longnecks, steamers, Ipswich, and piss clams. Although they are called the soft shell, that is not quite right. Their shells are more brittle. They are oblong with a distinguishable long protruding siphon. This is what the clam uses to filter the water and feed. This type of clam is not eaten raw and is generally deep-fried or steamed. The acidity level of the mud will change their shell color so look for the darker shells as they will have more flavor.
Digging for Clams
Before you start to dig for clams, you need to check to see if you need to have a clam digging license. You can find this information at the local wildlife department. Most areas in the US do require that you need to have a clam digging license. Digging for clams is dirty work so make sure that you wear clothes you do not mind getting wet and dirty. You should also wear sturdy shoes like rain boots or sneakers. You will need a shovel and a bucket but some like to take a rake. Read our article to learn, How to Rake for Clams.
Look for clams during low tide so you can walk out further on the shore to find the burrowed clams. You can also go clamming during the high tide but low tide is the best. Look for coin size depressions in the sand and dig at holes with water or sand squirting out. Dig your holes about seven to eight inches so you can get the clams out. Most clams will burrow down four to eight inches. When you find a clam, grab it gently to pull it out of the dirt so you do not damage it.
Make sure that you refill the hole and press the sand down firmly to keep the shoreline even. This will also keep people from tripping in the holes. Most are allowed the limit of 20-40 clams per day. Rinse all the clams in the shore water to rinse dirt from the clam. Now you are ready to take the clams home to get them ready to cook.
What to Look for in a Fresh Clam
When you are digging your clams you want to make sure that you are picking up edible clams. Make sure that you are checking the shells to make sure that they do not have any chips or cracks. They should not have any “off” smells that might make you think they are not fresh or maybe the clam inside has died. Each clam should also have a bit of spring in it, which means that if you touch the shell, it should open or close.
- Clams have a briny bite and bouncy chew
- At this time, there is no variety of clams that are on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch red list, which means they are not endangered seafood like some fish are.
- The bigger the clams the less likely they are to be eaten raw on the half shell.
- The hard-shell clams, or quahogs, are what are used in most po boys and chowders.