First, make sure the clam is alive. Dead clams deteriorate extremely fast. If you have hard shell clams, you can tell they are alive by the fact they are tightly closed. If you have soft shell clams, they should react when you touch them. If you find any dead clams, discard them.
Before you start, scrub the clams thoroughly using a stiff brush. This removes any extra grit and sand.
Use a protective glove or wrap a towel around the hand that will be holding the clam so you are less likely to cut yourself. Place a clam in your protected palm and work over a bowl so you do not lose any clam juice. The hinge of the clam’s shell should be braced against the base of your thumb.
If you are not used to shucking clams, use caution when you are first learning how to do this. It is very easy to cut open your hand while you work the knife into the clamshell. Once you learn the trick, shucking becomes much easier. After you have done a hundred clams or so, you will be an expert.
Using the Knife
Use a sharp clam knife or paring knife. Work the tip of the knife into the shell where the two halves meet that is nearest to your fingers. Once you have inserted it, slide it around the shell so you can cut the muscle near the hinge that is holding the shell closed. Always use care when opening the clams. Knives often slip when you are first trying to work the tip into the shell.
Open the shell. Scrape the muscle from the top shell so the whole clam rests in the bottom shell.
The clam is ready to serve on the half shell. You can also coat it with breadcrumbs and cook it upside down in bacon grease. The shell works well as a serving dish. You could also remove the clam entirely and use it in clam chowder or many other clam dishes. Shells can be discarded unless you want to clean them for other uses. Some clams have stronger shells and some are more brittle. Take care when cleaning them if you want to use them for something else.
If you have enough clams to save for later, you can remove them all from their shells and freeze them. You can find lots of recipes to use them in later. Be sure and date the bags you put in the freezer so you know when they were frozen.
Before you put them in the freezer, rinse them with salt water and place them in their freezer bags or containers with the clam juice you reserved during shucking. Add more salt water until the clams are covered. You can keep clams in the freezer for up to 3 months if your freezer is set to zero degrees F. Thaw them in the refrigerator before you use them. Never refreeze clams once they have thawed.
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