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Guide to Oysters, Mussels and Clams

Molluscs

Molluscs are greatly valued by gourmets for their delicate flavour. Simple and easy to prepare, they can turn a simple family meal into a memorable feast.


Selection Tips

Oysters

The two best-known varieties in Eastern Canada are the caraquet from New Brunswick and the malpeque from Prince Edward Island. Both are firm and succulent, but the malpeque is a little saltier.

Mussels

The common blue mussel is a mussel mostly farmed in Prince Edward Island. Farmed mussels do not contain any sand or grit and have meat that is more tender, plumper, and paler than wild mussels.

Clams

There are many varieties of clams but the most common ones are the quahog, cherrystone and littleneck. Another variety on the market is the mahogany, also sold as the “ocean quahog”. It can be prepared in the same way as cherrystone and littleneck clams.

Quahogs

Also known as “chowder clams”, are the biggest, measuring 3 inches (6.5 cm) or more in diameter. They are, however, less tender and tasty than smaller varieties, so eating them raw is not recommended. But chopped, shucked quahogs are good in chowders, soups and slow-cooked dishes.

Cherrystones

Cherrystones measure 2½ inches (5.5 cm) in diameter and are best stuffed or broiled. The smallest cherrystones can be eaten raw.

Littlenecks

Littlenecks measure 2 inches (4.5 cm) in diameter and are the sweetest, most succulent and usually the most expensive. They are excellent raw or steamed, eaten whole or mixed into pasta, sauces, salads or other seafood dishes.


Clams

For the best quality molluscs, look for the following:

  • Check the date of the catch on the package or ask your fishmonger to make sure they're fresh.
  • Don't buy any molluscs with damaged or broken shells.
  • When buying unshucked shellfish, check for heavy (waterlogged) living molluscs. The shells should be closed or snap shut when tapped. Bivalves with open shells are not safe for eating.
  • Shucked molluscs should be eaten only if meat is firm and plump and swimming in clear liquid.
  • The smell of shellfish is also a good indicator as to quality. Fresh shellfish smell faintly of seaweed. Avoid any that smell of ammonia.

Keep molluscs fresh

Ideally, molluscs should be eaten soon after purchase. If not, observing the following rules on storage is of paramount importance to ensure maximum freshness.

  • Unshucked oysters will keep up to 7 days; unshucked clams 3 to 5 days; and unshucked mussels only 1 or 2 days.
  • Raw, shucked oysters will keep 3 to 5 days refrigerated in an airtight container in their own juices (add salted water as needed to cover completely) and raw shucked clams, 1 to 2 days. Thaw in the refrigerator before using and eat immediately when thawed. Never refreeze thawed shellfish.
  • Mussels should be cooked before freezing. Shuck cooked mussels, put them in an airtight container, cover with cooking juices and freeze. They will keep 6 weeks in the freezer.
  • Cooked, shucked oysters and clams shouldn't be frozen or they become tough and rubbery.

 

Expert tip

Molluscs should be refrigerated and wrapped in a damp cloth in a container. Molluscs need to breathe, so shouldn't be kept in an airtight bag or container.

Clean molluscs

Although it may seem tedious at times, this step is essential to ensure full enjoyment of these delicate morsels.

  • Before eating or cooking mussels, clean them thoroughly with a brush under cold running water to wash away any sand or grit in the shell ridges.
  • Debeard mussels and clams before cooking.
  • Some gourmets recommend rinsing clams under cold running water for 20 minutes after brushing them to dislodge any sand inside the shell. Remove clams after 20 minutes and rinse in water to which coarse salt has been added.
  • Never leave molluscs in standing water because they could open, lose their juices and die.

How to shuck molluscs

  • To avoid a metallic taste, use a strong, wood-handled, short knife with a thick stainless steel blade to shuck molluscs. Slip the blade between the shells, twist open, and slice through the muscle. Wrap your hand with a damp cloth in case the knife slips.
  • Molluscs can also be opened by steaming them, which keeps the shells intact and look great when served whole. Steaming is also one of the best ways to cook molluscs for pasta, salad, cream soup or sauce recipes.

Serving ideas

Molluscs are very easy to cook and some are even eaten raw. In fact, small oysters and clams on the half-shell are sublime with rye bread, butter and a dry, fruity white wine. Aficionados enjoy them this way, savouring the subtle flavour so redolent of the sea that it makes all seasonings superfluous.

Spice it up

For those who want more flavour, top the meat with a dab of butter seasoned with shallots, pepper and nutmeg. Mussels, unlike oysters and clams, must always be cooked to prevent any risk of allergies, especially hives.

Mussels

Molluscs can be prepared in various ways to tease the taste buds. They can be baked, broiled, pan-fried, deep-fried, poached or steamed.

  • When poaching and steaming molluscs, cook in brine juice to keep the flesh succulent. Poaching in a flavoured broth enhances the flavour of molluscs while steaming highlights their subtle, delicate flavour.
  • Simmering molluscs on a bed of seasoned vegetables or baking them au gratin in the shell imbues them with rich flavour.
  • Pan-fried or deep-fried molluscs are the best way to introduce the truly hesitant to seafood. Dip them in breadcrumbs or a light batter before frying — just delicious!
  • Molluscs can be used to make savoury snacks or soups. Some chowders are so hearty that they make a meal.
  • Molluscs combined with crisp, fresh vegetables and herbs will make a memorable meal full of texture. Choose a dressing that enhances the various flavours and ties them all together.
  • Molluscs make great additions to pasta and rice dishes, such as paella, mussel risotto and linguine with clam sauce.

The combinations are endless since mussels, oysters and clams can be substituted for one another in most recipes. Just make sure not to overcook them —— keep them tender and succulent for best results.


Calculate servings

  • Serve 12-18 molluscs per person as a main course.
  • Serve half that as a first course or in a soup.​

Pair with wine

As a general rule, dry fruity white wines, light wines, or sometimes full-bodied, go best with molluscs.

Is it safe to eat seafood in months without an “r”?

Molluscs are perfectly safe to eat from May to August (the months without an "r"), although they’re stronger tasting because it’s during the reproduction season. According to some gourmets, oysters, mussels and clams are less tasty and plump and more perishable at that time.


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