A Guide for Buying and Cooking Clams
Many different types of clams are available in seafood markets, and you can often buy hard- and soft- shelled varieties, depending on the region.
Atlantic hard-shell clams, or quahogs, are sold by size. Large ones, called chowder clams, are tough and good for dishes like chowders and stews which tenderize them. Medium quahogs are called cherrystones, and the smallest are littlenecks. These may be steamed open in broth, stuffed and baked or eaten raw. Tenderness decreases with size, and littlenecks are the sweetest.
Razor clams are long, narrow clams that look like an old-fashioned straight razor. They are delicious when steamed.
Manila clams, a hard-shelled clam found in the Pacific, can be eaten raw or steamed.
Green-and-blue-tinged cockles from New Zealand are tiny and sweet. They are best when steamed.
Soft-shell clams, called steamers, have thin, flexible shells and slender, protruding necks. They are eaten steamed. Soft-shell clams are more perishable than hard shells and often contain sand.
Clams should be purchased alive with hard shells tightly closed. If you are unsure, gently poke the neck and it should retreat slightly.