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Clams, Oysters, and Mussels

Clams, Oysters, and Mussels

Enjoy these briny treats all summer long.

By FamilyTime

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Summer is the season when we think of seafood. Its light, refreshing flavors fit with warm weather cooking and if you haven't taken enough advantage of it yet, don't wait another day! Summer is all too short; enjoy the season, including indulging in these delicious treats.

At clam shacks, lobster pounds, and other coastal eateries, the menus are packed with dishes that showcase these tender morsels. They are even better when prepared at home. Take advantage of the season!

What is a Mollusk and a Bivalve?
Clams, oysters, and mussels are in the shellfish family, under the subheadings of mollusks and bivalves.

Mollusks include abalone and scallops as well as clams, oysters, and mussels. Bivalves are any creature with a soft body that lives between two hinged shells.

These versatile mollusks can be hard or soft shelled. This refers to varieties of clams found along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and while soft-shelled clams have slightly softer shells than others, they are still firm.

All Atlantic hard-shelled clams are called quahogs, but depending on their size are further classified as littlenecks, cherrystones, or chowder clams.

Soft-shelled clams have slightly elongated shells and visible necks, or siphons -- part of the clam's filtering system. On the West Coast, look for soft-shelled razor clams. On the East Coast, steamers are soft-shelled clams.

Traditionally, oysters are named after the region where they grow, because they take on the flavors of their environment. Oysters from cold water are firmer and more intense than those from warm water, which tend to be soft and mild.

Atlantic oysters taste strongly of the sea, with mineral overtones. Their shells are bumpy and elongated. They include Blue Point, Cape Cod, Long Island, and Wellfleet.

Pacific oysters are sometimes called Japanese oysters. These oysters tend to have more fluted shells than the Atlantic mollusks and tend to taste a little sweeter than Atlantic oysters. Pacific oysters include Hama Hamas and Quilcene.

Olympia oysters, native to the waters of the Pacific Northwest, are great favorites.

In the old days, oyster lovers were discouraged from eating oysters in months with names that did not contain the letter "r." This was because in the summer (May, June, July, and August; no "r's"), the heat damaged them. Nowadays, refrigeration and speedy transport around the country makes this culinary rule obsolete.

These mollusks have slightly pointed shells and sweet, tender, cream-colored meat. Most of the mussels available to the average shopper are cultivated, with the most common being the Atlantic blue (also called common mussels) and the Pacific green-lipped (also called New Zealand mussels).

Blue mussels are an inch or two shorter than green-lipped mussels.

Always buy live mussels. They are easy to find and relatively inexpensive compared to clams and oysters.

General Cooking Instructions
Clams, oysters, and mussels are all alive when you buy them. This means they should be eaten or cooked as soon after purchase as possible.

Be sure to buy them from a reputable merchant. Don't be tempted to buy a basket from an unfamiliar roadside stand or off the back of a pick-up truck. You never know if these unlicensed sellers have harvested the seafood from contaminated waters.

Store the seafood on ice or in a bowl covered with a damp towel stowed in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Do not hold them for more than 24 hours, and preferably for only a few hours.

Fresh clams and oysters can be eaten raw. Use a stubby shucking knife to open them just before serving. Serve them on the half shell (bottom shell) with cocktail sauce, minced tomatoes, horseradish, and lemon.

Both clams and oysters can be cooked, too. Mussels are always cooked.

When steaming mollusks, use only a little water and cook them until the shells open. This takes only minutes. Discard any that do not open.

Reserve the steaming liquid to flavor a sauce or soup. If serving steamer clams, serve the steaming broth the clams. Be sure to strain the broth, called liquor, through cheesecloth or let the naturally occurring grit and sand sink to the bottom of the bowl.

Clams and oysters are great lightly breaded and pan fried or deep fried. Clams and mussels are wonderful over pasta with lots of garlic and fresh herbs. All three taste great in soups, stews, and chowders.

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