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Product Spotlight: Manila clams

Interest in these tiny bivalves slowly migrates from West to East Coast

The Manila's size range makes it perfect for a wide
    variety of dishes. - Photo courtesy of Jon Rowley & Associates
By April Forristall
April 01, 2008

The Manila clam, native to Asia, originally hitched a ride to the United States with shipments of oyster seed from Japan in the 1920s.

"In the 1940s we started to notice a clam that was different than the native clam in the Northwest," says Bill Taylor, president of Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton, Wash. "It was the Manila clam."

Although the species now reproduces naturally in the United States, skyrocketing popularity - especially on the West Coast - led farms in Washington and British Columbia to produce the clam year-round.

Penn Cove Shellfish in Coupeville, Wash., sells roughly 700,000 pounds of Manilas annually, mainly to restaurants. 
Assistant Manager Karen Jefferds says the clam's cooking quality is the main reason restaurants order them over other clam species, such a littlenecks.

Chef Christine Keff agrees. Her Seattle restaurant, Flying Fish, goes through about 100 pounds of Manilas each week. Using mostly steamed Manilas on the restaurant's daily menu, appetizers run about $9, and the clam often is served as part of pasta entrées.

Like littleneck clams, Manilas range in size, each one ideal for a different recipe. The smaller clams, about 1.25 inches, are perfect for pastas because they don't over-stimulate the dish. Larger sizes, from 1.5 to 2.5 inches, are good for steaming or serving on the half shell.

Unlike New England steamers, Manilas have no sweater to remove, making them fast to clean and prepare.

"They're clean, fast on the line and steam open within 2 minutes," says Keff.

"It's a great clam, very versatile," says Taylor. "They go well with many, many types of preparations. It's used by many different types of cuisines from around the world."

Taylor, whose company sells more than 5 million pounds of the clam annually, points to the shelf life and meat-to-shell ratio as advantages Manilas boast over other clams.

"They hold up well," says Keff. "We get deliveries twice a week, and we never have any die."

Manilas can have a shelf life of 10 days in the winter, though that length is cut down to three to five days during summer months.

"Depending on the area, the meat-to-shell ratio will run around 20 to 25 percent," says Taylor. "[Manilas] have a fairly light shell in comparison to the heavy dense shell of littleneck clams."

"[In Seattle] they're very popular," Keff says. "They are really tender and people out here just really like them. They're not interested in any other clams."

But that's not the case on the Eastern Seaboard. Matt DiMatteo, sales executive at American Mussel in North Kingstown, R.I., says while demand for 
Manilas is steady, it's usually from chefs already familiar with the product.

"We get very few tried and true New Englanders who want Manila clams," DiMatteo says. However, he does have regular customers interested in the product, such as European restaurants. "There are a few that will take them because they are a unique product."

American Mussel's weekly Manila sales have steadily increased from about 100 pounds to 1,000 pounds in the five years since the company first started carrying the product under its Restaurant Ready brand.

 

Editorial Assistant April Forristall can be e-mailed at aforristall@divcom.com

 

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