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Product Spotlight: Manila clams
Interest in these tiny bivalves slowly migrates from West to East Coast
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
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
"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
"[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