Littlenecks, topnecks, steamers, mahoganies…the shellfish industry is filled with confusing terms for clams, some of which refer to the variety of clam, and some merely refer to the size of the clam. Here’s a quick and easy guide to help you sort them out.
The six varieties of clams that you’re most likely to encounter are:
Atlantic Hard Shell Clams (aka Quahogs):
The quintessential American hard-shell clam, quahogs are the clam most people think of when they think of clam chowder, clam strips, baked clams, spaghetti with clam sauce, etc. When in doubt, choose quahogs.
Quahogs are graded by size, with the different grades having different traditional names:
|Littlenecks||10-12 per pound|
|Middlenecks||8-10 per pound|
|Topnecks||5-7 per pound|
|Cherrystones||Avg. 3 per pound|
|Chowders||1-2 per pound|
On the Marx Foods store we’ve grouped the sizes by general culinary applications:
How They’re Prepared:
Small Quahog Clams (Littlenecks, Middlenecks & Topnecks): Are a great choice for any dish where you want to serve whole clams. Pasta dishes, soups, stews, appetizers, simply steamed…whatever you’d like. Some people even like to enjoy littleneck clams raw.
Large Quahog Clams (Chowders & Cherrystones): Are usually chopped or ground before use. They’re an ideal choice for soups (usually chowders), fried clam strips and baked clams (aka “stuffies”).
Mahogany clams are a variety of Atlantic hard-shelled clam with a stronger, brinier flavor than the common quahog.
How They’re Prepared: Mahogany clams cook similarly to the smaller quahogs. Their more pronounced flavor allows them to stand out in dishes with strong ingredients like bell peppers and tomatoes.
Originally Japanese in origin, manila clams were accidently introduced to the American west coast during the seeding of Japanese oyster varieties. They are a hard-shell variety with ridges and are prized for their cleaner, sweeter flavor.
How They’re Prepared: Manila clams can be cooked similarly to the smaller Atlantic hard shells (littlenecks, middlenecks & topnecks). They can also be eaten raw.
Razor Clams (aka Razor-Shells, Jackknife Clams):
One of the rarer clam varieties, razor clams get their name from their long, thin shape that resembles a straight razor. In the US you can find both Atlantic and Pacific varieties of razor clam (there are also additional types in Europe). The Atlantic clam is straighter and thinner (and looks most like a razor), while the Pacific razor clam looks more like a stretched/elongated regular clam. They have tougher neck portions and more tender belly portions like a steamer clam. Pacific razor clam meat tends to be on the tough side compared to other varieties, but they are quite tasty.
How They’re Prepared: Razor clams are often chopped or cooked for long periods in to make them tender. They can be broiled, baked, fried or stir fried.
Steamer Clams (aka Ipswich Clams):
Steamer clams are an East Coast variety with softer shells and small, chewy necks. They never completely close, leaving room for the neck to protrude from the shell. Their flavor is sweeter and creamier than most other clam varieties.
How They’re Prepared: Steamer clams are most often steamed or breaded and fried. Before cooking them the dark outer membrane around their “necks” should be removed.
Geoduck Clams (aka Mirugai):
Extremely large, geoduck clams are considered a delicacy in Japan and some other parts of Asia. They have a unique crisp, crunchy texture and a mild, balanced shellfish flavor. Some cultures consider them an aphrodisiac, likely because of their phallic appearance.
How They’re Prepared: Geoducks can be steamed, sautéed, or served as sushi, sashimi, or ceviche.