Artwork and text by Carol Freas
Nothing says or tastes like summer on LBI more than clams from Barnegat Bay. Delicious all year long, the Atlantic coast hard shell clam (Mercenaria mercenaria) also known as the Atlantic round clam or hard-shelled clam, or the quahog was a staple for the indigenous people of this area and for families and restaurants since settlement here in the 1800s.
After a day on the beach iced succulent clams on the half shell and a cold brew make a tasty pre-shower treat. Then get the grandkids involved and pass on the tradition of slurping tender Little Necks right off the shell. Later in the evening, after the kids are in bed, clean and dry the empty shells for the next day’s family craft project.
Live clams should be kept on ice in the refrigerator and smell sweet, not fishy, when shucked. If you’re lucky to have been in the bay to “tread” your own clams, scrub their shells well. Let them soak covered with fresh water in a large pot to allow the clams to filter and push out any silt or sand before preparing. Always, always keep live clams cold and eat them asap.
The next two sizes are Top Necks then Cherrystones when shopping the local market. They have more texture and provide the most versatile menu choices. Eat them raw with a zippy horseradish sauce or steam them in spices with wine or beer and sop up the delicious broth with chunks of crusty bread. Finish your sea-fest with an entry of pasta and red or white clam gravy. As for dessert? If you have a sweet clam creation, please pass it along, otherwise, desert the table with laughter and great memories.
Chowders are the largest clam sold locally. They are for use in casseroles and soups and used commercially.