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"Feeding" Clams & Mussels before cooking??? Help!

  • m

Last year my sister in law was visiting and before she prepared a clam recipe and a mussel recipe, she "fed" the mussels & clams some cornmeal (i think this is what she used) to clean out their systems before we ate them. I think she filled a bowl with water and cornmeal and let them sit in the fridge overnight. I may not have this exactly right, but that's was seems to stick in my memory.

Now my questions are:

1--is this necessary? None of my cookbooks recommend doing this. Is it some "industry" secret that I'm missing out on?

2--what exactly do I have to do in order to "feed" them? Anyone have any guidelines?

I searched through my cookbooks and I can't find anything detailing this procedure.


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  1. I don't think it is important with clams bought at a market or seafoood store. I used to read about this process but think it was designed for freshly dug clams to clean out the waste glands. Putting the clams in water and assuming you have 12 or more a half cup of cornmeal will be sufficient. So, if you find yourself clamming in pismo be sure to feed your clams.

    1. I always soak shellfish in cornmeal and water (unless they are farm raised), it supposedly irritates them and they spit everything out. Seems to work.
      Just as you thought, put them in a bowl of water with a small handful of cornmeal; I've never had any grit when I do this. Can't remember who told me this, maybe a fisherman?

      1. I don't know about fresh clams and mussels that you buy at the market. I DO know that when cooking these shellfish if you harvested them yourself, that letting them sit w/ the cornmeal for at least 24 hours is essential. I clam quite a lot and I once skipped the cornmeal routine as an experiment. That batch of clams was inedible with all the grit and sand, which was quite visible in their bodies.
        After harvesting, put the clams in fresh water, toss in a handful of cornmeal (I've used oatmeal on occasion) and let them sit for at least 24 hours. The clams will be sand and grit free.

        1 Reply
        1. re: MKatrinaToo

          Yes, he's right--a saline solution--where I live, the water is quite salty so hauling it from the source is unnecessary.

        2. I just read in McGee's New "Testament" (revised On Food and Cooking) that storing molluscs in FRESH water will kill them - need to be a 3% salt solution.

          1. k
            King of Northern Blvd

            It's so easy to buy farm raised now there is almost no need to feed.....

            1. It is called "purging" and IMHO it is necessary. In SF, I buy my clams live from the fish monger, then take home and purge in a salt water solution + cornmeal.

              I once did not purge, I was in Florida and the Beau was insistant on cooking with clams...so we bought them from the supermarket; mom didn't have cornmeal. We just scrubbed and rinsed...and ended up with a meal of gritty clams.

              Some people say if you buy from a supermarket you don't need to purge. I disagree. Although I suppose if the clams are already dead, purging won't make a difference.

              Lidia Matticchio Bastianich of PBS fame explains purging in her cookbook Lidia's Italian Table.

              THey also say that different clams/types of shellfish will be more or less gritty than others...

              1. How long do you have to soak them in the cornmeal or salt?

                1 Reply
                1. re: Miss M

                  According to Lidia's Italian Table, P. 309, 2 tsp salt + 2 quarts H20 w/a handful of bread crumbs or fine corn meal (my hand is small), refrigerated for 1-2 hours. Drain and rinse shellfish before using. (I drain, rinse, scrub, rinse again).

                2. Thanks so much for all your help! I'll be sure to feed my clams from now on...

                  Happy Holidays!