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Product Spotlight: Surf clams
From fried strips to baked stuffed to juice, this big bivalve offers value and convenience
September 01, 2005
The surf clam (Spisula solidissima) is often the “fried clams” on the menu of seafood eateries across the country. It’s also the chopped clams grocers sell fresh or canned for making white clam sauce and chowder.
The biggest of the East Coast clams, the surf clam is also the most important clam species, by volume, in the United States. Landings in 2003 (the most recent data available) totaled 29,864 metric tons, valued at $36.7 million. The fishery is managed under an ITQ (individual transferable quota) system, which ensures a stable resource and consistent harvests.
Surf clams are taken by hydraulic dredges from sand or gravel bottoms at 10 to 300 feet. The fast-growing bivalve matures in five to seven years and is found from the Gulf of Maine to Cape Hatteras, N.C. The lion’s share of the harvest comes from New Jersey, which accounted for 23,286 metric tons of the 2003 landings.
Averaging 4 1/2 to 8 inches across, surf clams are too big and coarse to be eaten whole like other clams. They are sold as processed meat. Two-thirds of the shucked weight is used. Half of that is the “tongue,” sold in strips for use primarily as fried clams. The other half is the meat that runs around the shell, plus an adductor muscle that opens and closes the shell. It is ground or chopped and used for chowders, bisques and sauces. Surf clams are also used for clam cakes, stuffed clams (utilizing the shell) and clam juice — almost nothing goes to waste.
Blount Seafood, with plants in Fall River, Mass., and Warren, R.I., is one of five surf-clam processors on the East Coast (Sea Watch International in Easton, Md., is the biggest). President Todd Blount reports that his company processes around 7 million pounds of hand- or steam-shucked clams annually. The bulk of its business is industrial clients who buy IQF chopped meats for chowders. The company also supplies private-label chowders for deli sections of mid-sized retailers.
Blount says surf clams are “perfect” for chowders, whether in raw, frozen or canned form. They’re a “more upscale” product than the smaller ocean quahogs, he notes, as the meat is sweeter, brighter in color and more tender.
One of Blount’s signature foodservice products is Superstrips, tenderized, breaded tongue strips that are several times wider than conventional clam strips. Strips give casual-dining operators a fried-clam option that’s more convenient and economical than whole-belly clams.