If you venture to one of the many bay beaches on the Cape and Islands at low tide, it's likely you'll see the soft, ridged sand being bombarded by both commercial and recreational shellfishermen. Like little kids in a candy store, visitors and locals alike wade into the warm summer water and scour the soft, sandy flats in search of the fruits of the sea. Clamming on Cape Cod is an exciting and rewarding activity that'll have you feeling fully immersed in the Cape Cod experience. But before you dig in (literally), make sure you secure the proper license according to town and have researched all rules and regulations! Without further ado, welcome to blog post #1 of WeNeedaVacation's shellfishing series: An Introduction to the Basics of Clamming and Cape Cod's Shellfish Community.
The Vital Importance of Shellfish
One of the many reasons why the Cape and Islands is so special is because of the tight-knit community that comes together to seek not only nourishment, but also a livelihood through shellfish. Many of the commercial fishermen who live on Cape Cod year round rely on shellfish for financial security, harvesting and catching clams, oysters, etc., that are sold to restaurants around the world. Shellfish play an impressive role in the day-to-day functioning of the Cape and Islands community. In fact, oysters even have their own weekend dedicated to them: Wellfleet OysterFest. Back and better than ever after a 2-year COVID hiatus, Wellfleet OysterFest 2022 will resume with a change of location, this year being held at Bakers Field!
Tricks from Childhood
When I was a young girl out hitting the tide with my dad, one of the very first things he taught me was an easy way to seek out clams from the surface. He told me to scan the top of the sand for water marks. These circular imprints, ranging in size from as small as a dime to as large as a quarter, were clues that the clams burrowed in the black sludge were spitting up water toward the sky. In other words, it meant it was time to get digging! While looking for water marks may be an exciting technique for digging up dinner (almost feels like a treasure hunt), it’s definitely not the most efficient. That being said, most of the individuals who hit the tide on a regular basis are equipped with helpful supplies such as waders and clam rakes.
Before you embark on your clamming adventure, it's important to be well-equipped for the occasion. Many individuals who shellfish choose to invest in waders and a clam rake. While not necessary, these two items make the whole process of finding clams a lot quicker! Clam rakes scrape the surface of the sand to reveal the dark muddy depths that are home to the sweet yet savory shellfish. Once you rake the top layer of sand, you'll start to hear and feel the metal prongs scraping shell. This is when you should drop the rake and start shuffling the sand with your hands to feel around for your food. Once you're able to uncover the clams, be sure to measure them with a ring to make sure they're of legal size! If it's an exceptionally hot summer day and you're looking to be anywhere except for the sweltering hot sand, invest in a pair of waders so you can walk out into the water to find your clams.
Once you've reaped the fruits of your labor, it's time to get back to your WeNeedaVacation rental to enjoy your hard earned catch! Whether you choose to prepare your clams Cape style on the half-shell with lemon and cocktail sauce or favor them toasted with breadcrumbs and butter, they're going to taste extra delicious knowing that your hard day's work is the reason you have them! Below are just a few of my personal favorite clam recipes. If you try any of them, be sure to DM a photo of them to @weneedavacation on Instagram!
NoNo's Famous Clam Dip
Ingredients: 1/4 lb butter, 1 lb chopped clams, 1 tsp lemon juice, 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp basil, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 tsp parsley, 1 red onion chopped, 1/2 green pepper chopped, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, 3/4 cup of Italian bread crumbs
Instructions: Saute onion and green pepper in 1 stick of butter. Mix in the garlic and lemon juice and all spices. Stir all together and then mix in the clams and add parmesan cheese. Do not overcook clams! Stir in Italian bread crumbs until all liquid is absorbed. Transfer into small oven safe dish and top with 1 or 2 pieces of American cheese. Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes.
D.C.'s Clams Casino
Ingredients: Shucked littlenecks (still in shell), Italian bread crumbs, stick of butter, parmesan cheese, garlic powder, paprika, crushed red pepper
Instructions: Open clams and place on a cookie sheet with tin foil. Sprinkle Italian bread crumbs and parmesan cheese onto clam. Then place half a pat of butter on crumbs and cheese and sprinkle garlic powder and paprika on top of that. Add some crushed red pepper if you like extra spice! Bake at 400 until they turn golden brown; can be cooked in toaster, on grill, or in the oven.
Danny Jones' Stuffed Clams
Ingredients: 1/3 cup chopped onions, 1/2 red pepper, 1 stick of butter, 1/2 green pepper, 3/4 cup bread crumbs, 1 sleeve Ritz crackers crushed, 1 cup of Quahog juice, 2 cups chopped Quahogs.
Instructions: Pulse peppers, onions, and clams in blender or food processor and then mix in with the melted butter, bread crumbs, crackers, and clam juice. You should be able to pack 16 clam shells full with this mixture. Once all shells are packed, bake at 400 for 30-45 minutes.