Clams and Mussels: How to Buy, Store, Clean and Prepare

//Clams and Mussels: How to Buy, Store, Clean and Prepare

A quality plate of spaghetti vongole is sometimes the perfect remedy to a long week, and when prepared correctly, there’s no better cure! Working with live shellfish can be intimidating to some, but there are simple steps that you will easily be able to adopt into your kitchen techniques; especially since we’ve all got a lot of free time on our hands for the next coming weeks.

What sort of clams or mussels should I buy?

Choosing the best type of shellfish for a dish, greatly depends on what sort of meal you are making. If you’re after a classic Moules-frites on a Friday evening, you’ll need to equip yourself with fresh black mussels, this dish is usually made with Mediterranean mussels or Blue Mussels – the two most common edible species. Asking your fishmonger for their best selection will also prove to be a good reference point.

When it comes to clams, preference plays a big part in choosing the right ingredient for your dish. The red clams, known as blood clams are rather textured and add flavour to Asian cooking plus, they serve as a meaty option for a chowder. The general hard clam is best served in a Mediterranean dishes where sweetness and lighter texture pair beautifully with a wine wine finished pasta, for example. Razor clams are usually eaten tapas style or add bold flavour combinations to a meat dish – they’re textured and packed with flavour.

Different species of shellfish within the same family can be really different from each other – experiment and find your favourite.

How to properly store fresh mussels and clams

Buying fresh shellfish means you intend to eat the produce within 1-2 days of purchasing it. The golden rule is to eat your fresh shellfish on the day of purchasing and store it on a bed of ice on your way from the fish store to your kitchen. Most fishmongers will set you up with a bag of ice before you leave.

Whenever possible, buy pre packed clams in netting, not plastic bags, while neither serve any environmental benefit to our seas, the netting allows the shellfish to breathe while the plastic suffocates the live molluscs. If you’re taking your own container, crack some aid into the box by opening the lid slightly en route.

How to clean clams and mussels

You will need to purge the shellfish by putting them into a bowl of cold fresh water for about 20 minutes. Purging is a necessary activity that filter feeders such as clams and mussels should go through before consumption. Cleaning clams and mussels in such a way rids their tissues of any excess sand or toxins that they might have ‘consumed’ during their live underwater.

It is recommended to repeat this process until the water runs clean, so several attempts may be needed depending on the clams you got hold of. Some old wives tales say ground pepper or cornmeal helps the mussels purge more and faster.

Be sure to discard any clams and mussels with broken shells – these are likely dead and can cause food poisoning if they are consumed.

How to cook fresh clams and mussels

The first thing you’ll need when cooking mussels or clams is an untreated pot – the non-stick layer on modern pots will deteriorate when the shells rub against its surface. This is neither good for your pot or the food you’re preparing.

Traditional cooking of clams in the Mediterranean is generally done by heating a pot, adding oil, garlic, onion and seasoning and once cooked slightly, flashing your shellfish in a dry pan for a short while. You will start to hear clams open slowly. Add a splash of white wine and a little more seasoning will deglaze the pot, add some flavour to your clams and help the shells open.

Towards the end of the cooking process you will choose whether to add fresh ingredients such as cherry tomatoes, chillies or herbs or opt for an earthy creamy base where double cream or coconuts cream, tarragon or marjoram could feature as a base.

Every recipe calls for additional steps, so be sure to read your instructions well so as not to leave out any flavour from your next meal. Bon appetit!


Also read: How Healthy is Seafood? Health Benefits of Seafood


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