Jersey Summer

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Summer came and went. Ours seemed like a big blur of frenzy intermixed with occasional glimpses of tranquility.

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Though we haven't deliberately chosen Jersey - as in, oh let's live here of all places - rather we've kind of stumbled into it (our living situation was altogether rather random, going from NYC to Norway and then here), I'd say we've transplanted quite well (better perhaps than we did at 60º north).

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Following the when in Rome philosophy, this summer, rather than going to a beach off somewhere in exotic places, we thought, well, we have a beach. A whole shore of it. So to the Shore we went. Although I expected beach towns, shacks, and some great waves, one thing that didn't occur to me was the food. As in, buckets and buckets worth of delicious, fresh seafood.

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Take for instance, clam fest, taking place every year in Highlands NJ, about which we found out about by a complete accident while stopping for a snack there. It took place over an entire weekend in August. Needless to say, we of course went to it, and became so overwhelemed that we somehow forgot the shore that was more South, or the Sandy Hook that was right there, and came back for it the second day. Yes, just for the clams.

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I've had clams before, but not like this. If you remember the movie Forrest Gump, there was scene where Bubba was explaining how he would like to go into the shrimping business after the army, and was listing all the things you could do with shrimp (here is the scene), the clam thing is similar. You can barbecue 'em, boil 'em, broil 'em, bake 'em, sautee 'em.

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There's clam bake, clam chowder, clam soup, clam stew, fried clams, steamed clams, clams on the half-shell, grilled clams, clam cakes, stuffed clams, clam sandwich. That's about it.

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Soft-shell clams or "steamers" as they are often called are clams primarily used for steaming, and then eating by dipping them in clam broth to wash off any remaining grit and then dipping them in melted butter.  Their shell is made of calcium carbonate, which is very thin and brittle for a mollusk, and can be crushed with your fingers, hence the name soft-shell.

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These clams have a distinctive "long neck," a blackish protrusion, which is connected to the actual clam. The neck is covered with a black, inedible membrane. To eat the steamers, you remove the top half-shell, then peel off the the skin from the long neck. The neck is convenient to grab and pull the clam out of the bottom half shell, and then dip it in the broth and butter.

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You can use the shell to catch any running juices and then drink those up as well.

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The other common type is the hard clam, also known as littleneck clam, topneck or quahog (names vary depending on their sizes). These have a hard shell, and can be eaten raw on the half-shell.

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These can be used for steaming as well, especially for pasta-dishes, while stand-alone steamed clam dishes usually use the steamers. The hard clams are also great grilled.

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The larger quahogs, having tougher meat, are usually reserved for dishes like the clam chowder.  But if you're feeling clammed out, there are always other options. We are definitely going back next year for the clam festival, and also a lobster fest that apparently takes place every year on Bradley Beach.

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Profits from the clam fest went in part to helping rebuild the shore which was significantly damaged by Hurricane Sandy. But if you ask folks, I'd say we've bounced back pretty strong.

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See you next summer, Jersey shore.

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