Like other easily accessible types of shellfish, clams have, since time immemorial, provided food humans who lived on shores around the world.
The Native Americans seem to have been particularly fond of them because large piles of shells have been found on the Atlantic coast. They were also used as currency.
Clams have always been easy to catch. They live buried in the sand (5–10 cm) thanks to their foot, which is highly developed and shaped like an ax. They are equipped with a long tubular organ with a separate inlet and outlet which extends to the surface of the water: they pump the water to filter out the plankton, which they then eat. From time to time, they activate a powerful trigger on their foot to go and feed somewhere else.
This life in the sand provides protection from predators, expect the Eurasian oystercatcher or Common Pied Oystercatcher, which, despite its name, is actually a bird that can open and eat clams and other similar mollusks.
At low tide, it becomes vulnerable and is then harvested by "finger and eye", easily spotted thanks to the small holes dug by its tubular organ.
But clams are also fished using the rake method, which is easier and more profitable.
This is how stocks were gradually destroyed and clam farming began.
In California, Prismo Beach is the clam capital.
In France, the minimum size of clams is 4 cm. Elsewhere, they are on average 3.5 cm.
They must be alive and firmly closed. If a clam is slightly open, it must close immediately when touched. If it remains open, it must be discarded.
Fresh clams are sold per unit.
There are sold frozen whole, with or without their shell, raw or cooked, and canned.
Clams must be thoroughly washed to remove all traces of sand. They must be drained for 3–4 hours in the dark in a large bowl. The water must be changed several times.
Once drained, they are opened in a large pan with white wine and chopped shallot, quickly so as not to cook the meat. They can then be shucked.
Clams stuffed with garlic butter is a classic dish. Spaghetti alle vongole is a classic in Italy, like the fabada con almejas (clam stew) in Spain, porco à alentejana (pork with clams) in Portugal, clam chowder in New England (United States), fukagawa-meshi (clams served on rice) in Japan, and the various clam soups in Asian countries.
Clams should be eaten as quickly as possible because, like all shellfish, they go off quickly.
They will keep for 2–3 days (depending on the fishing date, which must be indicated on the keepnet) in a cold room or refrigerator covered with a damp cloth with a weight on top.
Clams are particularly rich in minerals, especially iron.
They also contain many B vitamins, protein, a little vitamin C and carbohydrates, but no fat at all.
In France, the grooved carpet-shell clam is the most common, as well as the Japanese carpet shell, imported in the 70s for farming, but now living wildly in the sea.
Other species are harvested elsewhere: butter clam (quite big), Pacific littleneck clam, banded carpet shellfish, yellow clam, and Asian clam.
In France, clams are farmed in Brittany, Normandy, and the Vendée. They are also farmed in many other countries (Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Italy, the UK, Canada, USA, Japan, etc.).
Clams are available all year round.
This is a larger clam: 5–10 cm, widely fished in Canada and the United States.