Clam meat can be cooked in a variety of ways. Fresh clams can be cooked in the shell or out of the shell. Canned clams, whether in whole pieces, slices, or minced, are already pre-cooked. The cleaned and packaged clams are ready for immediate use.
There are several methods that can be used to prepare fresh clams, depending on whether the clams are cooked in the shell or the clam has been shucked and the meat removed from the shell. Fresh clams remaining in the shell can be steamed and then opened to remove the clam. Shelled clam meat can be prepared in a wok for a quick seafood stir-fry, breaded and deep-fried or pan-fried, baked in a casserole, sautéed in oil and butter, or lightly grilled.
Pre-processed clams can be left whole, sliced, or diced, cooked in the same manner as fresh clams and used in the same recipes. Canned or jarred clams are pre-cooked and edible from the package. Many varieties of fresh clams can also be eaten raw.
The advantages of cooking clams purchased from a seafood market or a grocery store’s seafood department are the superior flavor and freshness of the clam meat. Clams from a store or market have already been cleaned with the shell removed and ready for cooking. If purchasing fresh clams in the shell, prior to purchase request that the store or market employee shuck the clams.
Cooking with canned or jarred clam meat has its own advantages. Packaged clams provide the added convenience of not having to de-shell and clean fresh clams. Pre-packaged clams are readily available in supermarkets and specialty stores, year-round. Processed clams also have a much longer shelf life than fresh clams.
Fresh or processed clam meat is the main ingredient in many specialty dishes such as New England clam chowder, linguini with clam sauce, and red and white sauces. Clam meat is also used as a topping on pizza prior to baking. Canned clams can be diced and mixed with assorted ingredients to make creamy clam dip. Like raw or smoked oysters, clams are served on the half-shell, or on a cracker as a canapé.
There are numerous varieties of clams found all around the world. Clams are considered hard-shell or soft-shell depending on the habitat and waters where they are located. They can be found in freshwater lakes, rivers, sand and mud flats, while saltwater clams are found in the cool and deeper cold waters of the ocean.