Killing and eating dinner, and other summer fun


It’s no season for pot roast, but it is open season on local seafood.

In my house we enjoy a minor addiction to clams, preferably steamed clams, and we try to maximize consumption during July and August, when they’re local, plentiful and sweet. Recently, however, I paused in my pursuit of the tasty bivalve during a purchase at the fish store. I asked the sales person if I could soak the clams to get rid of the sand, and he said, “No you’ll drown them.”

Hmm. I hadn’t been dwelling on the idea of their being alive when I carried them home, which of course they must be to guarantee freshness. I wanted to think of them as inanimate things, like carrots, ready for the steamer. The concept that I could be responsible for drowning them seemed deeply disturbing. Waterboarding clams? Who needs the guilt?

My husband pointed out that drowning might be kinder and gentler than boiling them alive, which is my usual M.O., but that offered small comfort. Still, life is short (especially for a clam in my house), so I decided not to worry about the spiritual life of steamers and to get on with the feast.

For the uninitiated, the steamer is a clam that lives in the mud along the ocean shoreline. It grows 7.5 to 15 centimeters long. My hubby craves the large ones, but I like the small ones. The large ones look like the innards of a small animal, but that doesn’t discourage him one bit. The clams are harvested — literally dug out of the muck — by licensed clammers. If the weather is rainy, the clams aren’t dug until the tidal flat waters are deemed safe from any runoff contamination.

I realize this isn’t sounding too appealing. Tainted water, animal innards . . . why would someone eat these creatures? To begin with, they really are safe to eat, because they’re steamed for at least five minutes, until the shells open. If you’re served steamers with closed shells, don’t eat them. It means they were dead when they were cooked, which exonerates you from murder but makes you vulnerable to food poisoning. They must be alive. If you buy them at a fish store, just poke your finger in the space between the shells and the clam will close. That proves it’s alive. It may freak you out, but it’s safe to cook and eat.

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