Quahog Clams – The Cornerstone of the Best Clam Chowder

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If you’re a resident of New England or just happen to be a fan of Family Guy, you have by no doubt heard the word “Quahog” numerous times. Sure, you’ve heard about Quahogs, but do you truly understand and appreciate them?
Quahogs are a variety of large clam that get their name from the Narragansett word “Poquauhock”, which is what Native Americans referred to them as. While several Indian tribes consumed Quahogs as a food source, they also made their shells into refined beads known as Wampum, which many New England tribes circulated as currency.1 Quahogs have also been given several other monikers over the years, with some of the more common ones being Northern Quahogs, Round Clams, and Chowder Clams. The last of these nicknames is most likely the most fitting, as diced Quahogs are included in every variety of fresh, delicious clam chowder from Old Saybrook seafood market Atlantic Seafood.

Quahogs make their homes in the Atlantic Ocean, with their territory stretching as far north as Prince Edward Island and as far south as the Yucatan Penninsula.1 They are especially concentrated from the coasts of New Jersey through Cape Cod and are so prominent in the Narragansett Bay, that they are its most commercially important item. In addition to this, Rhode Island is so Quahog-crazy that they have made it their official state shellfish and is sometimes referred to as “Quahog Country”.2
Bearing the scientific name of Mercenaria mercenaria, Quahogs are the largest of a class of clams that also includes Cherrystones (medium) and Littlenecks (smallest). They tend to reach maturity in approximately 31/21/2 years and can live for as long as 40 years. You can actually tell how old a Quahog is by counting the number of rings on its shell. The age of older Quahogs will be more difficult to distinguish, as they grow at a progressively smaller rate each year and their rings will be have very little space between each set.2
Quahogs are a key staple in New England seafood cuisine, being included in chowders, clam fritters/clam cakes, and several other quintessential New England seafood dishes. They also make for some great CT steamers. Below, we’ve included a recipe for that most under-appreciated style of Clam Chowder, Rhode Island Clearbroth Clam Chowder.

Rhode Island Clearbroth Clam Chowder Recipe from Leites Culinaria

 

Ingredients: 12 diced Quahogs, 1/4 lb diced salt pork, 1/2 cup diced onions, 3lbs peeled and diced potatoes, 1/2 tsp white pepper, and 1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce3

Directions: 1. Wash and rinse the Quahogs thoroughly. If there are any Quahogs that are open before washing, do not use them. Place washed the clams into a large pot and cover with them 6 cups of cool water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover the pot and continue heating until the shells open, which should take about 8 to 10 minutes. Immediately remove the Quahogs.

2. When they are cool enough to touch, extract the cooked quahogs from their shells and chop them into 1/8-inch chunks.

3. Cover the pot again and place it over low heat to keep the broth-infused water warm while you assemble the other ingredients.

4. In a frying pan, heat the salt pork over medium heat until the fat renders and the meat is browned and crisp. Remove the salt pork from the pan and put the onions into it and saute until they’re translucent.

5. Once the onions have cooked, add them to the clam broth.

6. Bring the broth to a gentle boil over medium-high heat and add the potatoes. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, for another 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the salt pork and season with the pepper and the Worcestershire sauce.

7. Add the cooked quahogs and heat through for a minute. Once it is done, you may serve it immediately or you can let it cool, then cover and refrigerate. It can then be reheated and served any time in the near future.3

1.Hard Clam
2. Ely, Eleanor
Rhode Island Sea Grant Fact Sheet
3. Beaulieu, Linda
Leite’s Culinaria
http://leitesculinaria.com/1342/recipes-rhode-island-clear-broth-clam-quahog-chowder.html

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