Clamming seemed like a dicey proposition to me as a kid. I remember watching my dad wade out to his neck looking for quahogs. This was on Cape Cod, near the Eel River. Eels had the run of the place, I was told. There were lots of other slimy critters. To get the quahogs, you had to feel along the bottom with your feet. This was the sort of goopy bottom that us kids desperately tried to avoid touching at all. But I discovered early on that I loved the taste—the whole ritual—of eating what we simply called steamers. I left the catching to the adults.
The clams around Puget Sound are more forgiving, which makes a day of clamming...ahem...fun for the whole family. Non-native Manila clams (Venerupis philippinarum), imported from Japan in the early 20th century, are easily accessible at low tide, and because of their short siphons they're usually found in the top few inches of substrate. This means my three-year-old daughter can capture them, which she did repeatedly the other day, earning her own limit. The native littlenecks (Protothaca staminea) prefer a deeper lair, four or more inches under. While both sport a crosshatching pattern of concentric rings and radiating ridges on their shells, Manilas are more oblong than natives and usually more colorful. You can see the differences below:
Steamed Clams in Wine and Chorizo
I adapted this dish from a Gourmet recipe I found on Epicurious by doubling the amount of chorizo (and sautéing it) and replacing part of the wine with vermouth. Also doubled the garlic, always a good thing.
1 onion, diced
1 yellow pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound chorizo
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp salt
2 (or more) tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup vermouth
2 heaping tbsp fresh chopped cilantro
2 lbs live littlenecks, scrubbed
In a deep casserole or pot, saute the onion, garlic, yellow pepper, and cumin seeds in olive oil until the veggies are soft, then add the chorizo. [Does anyone really know what chorizo is? After reading the ingredient list on the package I made sure to hide it from my wife. Though I don't have much (any) experience cooking with chorizo, I was still surprised by what happened next. After removing the sausage-like sheath, I crumbled large pieces into the pot, expecting the chorizo to brown like Italian sausage. Instead, it melted. But this turned out to be a fortunate twist.] Next add the wine and vermouth and bring to a boil. Dump in the clams and cover. When the clams have opened, stir in the cilantro and serve with good bread. The melted chorizo-wine-clam broth is ambrosial. You'll want to sop up every last bit with the bread.