Characteristics

There are two major kinds of clams from the east coast of North America: hard shell and soft shell.The West Coast also has some local varieties.

1. Hard-shell clams or quahogs.These go by different names, depending on size.

Littlenecks are the smallest.They are the most tender for eating raw or for steaming. Cherrystones are medium-sized, and perhaps the most common.They can be eaten raw and are good for steaming, though tougher than littlenecks. Chowders, the largest, are also called quahogs in the Northeast. Rather tough, they are chopped for cooking in chowders or cut into strips for frying.

2. Soft-shell clams. These are sometimes called longnecks because of the long tube that protrudes from between the shells.They have very thin shells that do not close completely.

They are also called steamers because the usual way to serve them is to steam them and serve them with their own broth and with melted butter for dipping.

3. Cockles. These are not actually clams but are in a different family, even though they look like tiny clams, usually no more than an inch (2.5 cm) across.They can be cooked like clams and are almost always served in the shell.

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