Monday, August 9, 2010

A Shore Thing

Long Island Sound has sparked quite a few hobbies of mine over the years, one of which is beach combing for sea glass. I love walking the shoreline on a dropping tide and picking up decades-old shards of frosted glass worn down by the elements. While glass is the most common thing I pick up at the beach, on occasion I'll hit the jackpot with something much older and more rare, Native American artifacts. It is not always easy determining what is a stone tool or not after hundreds, if not thousands, of years tumbling in the surf. Glass is much easier to spot, but uncommon colors like shades of blue, red, purple, and yellow are the coveted pieces. Sea glass is cool to give as gifts to friends and I am sitting on a stockpile at home that I'd like to turn into jewelry someday and make a buck or two. My younger brother and I visited a sea glass hotspot yesterday. We filled two 30-gallon bags with trash before the karma bank coughed up this nice find below. 

Later that day I kept the shore theme going and tried something I had been meaning to for a long time, clamming! As a seafood lover, it only seems natural that I hunt and gather my own on occasion. Whether it's bluefish or blue crab, the meal always tastes better when you catch it and cook it yourself. Soft-shell clams (a.k.a. steamers) are a favorite summertime appetizer in New England and beyond. As with many types of harvesting from the Sound, successful shell-fishing requires good location. I stumbled upon a productive spot just by watching veteran clammers fill their buckets each weekend. Shellfish regulations vary from town to town, so be sure to check your municipality's website before heading out. Clean water is a must for safe human consumption and without recent heavy rains, we had a perfect window give it a shot.

Soft-shell clams from Long Island Sound

The tools for digging steamers are easily attainable; a garden or spading fork, work gloves, a pad to kneel on, and a bucket.  The tasty bivalves are sometimes called "piss clams" for good reason, as their long necks or siphons, used to filter water for food, give up their location by squirting water when pressure is applied to the ground around them. Shell-fishermen simply throw rocks or bang their tools against the mud to locate their pissing quarry. Soft-shell clams have, you guessed it, soft shells, so be careful not to break them while digging. They are usually not much deeper than six inches and are often found in bunches. We dug more than five dozen clams in one afternoon session--not bad for a couple of rookies.   

An afternoon's haul of steamer clams

The clams should be kept in a bucket of saltwater so they can filter out the sand inside their shells. A few water changes and an overnight soak is ideal, but there is at least one way to speed up the purging process.  I learned that by adding a cup of cornmeal to the bucket helps. Apparently the steamers filter the cornmeal laden water, which causes irritation and forces them to spit out any silt and sand quicker. Some seafood fans prefer the sandy grit when eating shellfish, but I gave the cornmeal a try and it worked quite well. A few water changes and some cornmeal and we had a ready-to-cook appetizer in a few hours time. The cooking process is the easiest part of the deal. Steam the clams in a pot with an inch or two of water (cup of beer optional) until the shells open wide. After that pour water from the pot into a bowl for a dipping broth. You can melt butter in another bowl for some added post-broth flavor, although these clams were so sweet they didn't need it!

There is no better appetizer for summer in New England


  1. Great looking bowl of steamers.
    That natural broth is oh so good.

  2. Glad to see you finally got out for some shell fishing after asking about it on Nice to see you got down and dirty digging up steamers too. Nice job.