In case you're wondering how to clean clams - or even if you need to clean them - don't worry, the process is easier than you might expect, although yes, you do always need to clean them. What's most important is knowing whether you have hard-shell clams or soft-shell clams.
Hard-shell clams live in deeper water, while soft-shell clams live in tidal areas. In the United States, most markets sell hard-shell clams. That's what we buy, and what our cleaning instructions cover when we describe to how to clean clams.
The cultivated hardshell clams sold in most markets are already fairly clean to begin with. All you normally need to do is to give them a quick soak, and then lightly scrub them. Here's the process in detail:
1. Inspect your clams to make sure they're all still alive and in good shape. Discard any with broken or chipped shells. Their shells should be closed. If any are not, tap them lightly on the counter. Any that don't close within a couple of minutes are probably dead, so throw them out.
2. Get rid of any sand or grit by soaking your clams in water for about an hour before you're ready to cook them. To do this, put your clams into a colander, and lower it into a larger bowl or pot filled with enough water to cover the clams. If you want, add a spoonful of cornmeal to the water, which acts as an irritant and causes the clams to expel sand even faster, even though they probably don't have much to begin with. At the end of the hour, give the colander a quick shake to dislodge any sand at the bottom, and lift it out of the water.
3. Scrub the clams on both sides with a nylon brush under running water to dislodge any sand, grit, or marine debris clinging to their outside shells.
Your clams are now ready to cook! Check out our clam recipes for ideas.
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