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May 7, 2010 06:42 PM

Clams vs mussels

Question - Clams are on sale and mussels are also on sale. How do they differ?

I've never cooked clams (but I've had them in restaurants) and I've never eaten mussels. I live in an arid desert so this is my first trip into shell fish, cooking at home.

If anyone has a luscious recipe for either, I would be most grateful.

SO doesn't do shell fish, so I think more for me! Which fishy is better as leftovers?

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  1. I love 'em both. That said, be careful with seafood on sale. Is it on sale cause it's been sitting there too long?

    Mussels are nice just cooked like this: Debeard and wash the mussels. Saute ginger and lemongrass in oil in a nice, sturdy pot over medium high heat. Toss in the mussels and some tomato chunks, put a lid on the pot, and continue to cook for 10-15 minutes until most of the mussels have opened. Only eat the ones that opened, discard any that stayed closed (they were dead before you cooked 'em - blech). Serve with a nice fresh bread you can dip into the resulting sauce.

    Clams are lovely in a chowder. Recipe here:

    Just make sure they look good and fresh. Ask your fishmonger when they came in.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Indirect Heat

      Yes - I know about the check how fresh they are and the guys at the meat counter are helpful in the "It's a great deal" way. I also know about the don't eat the closed ones after they've been cooked. In a Mark Bittman cookbook, he stated it's ok to open w/ a knife but I'm going w/ the "If it ain't open don't eat it" category.

      Do they taste the same? Do they (either) do well as leftovers? And yes, I'm going to have either w/ fresh bread and a crisp salad. TY!

      1. re: JerryMe

        IMO, mussels are lighter textured than clams; with a texture less "meaty" and closer to liver than anything else. Clams are meatier, somewhat chewy (depending on how they're prepared) and less delicate in their texture. I prefer clams; but to each his own.

        1. re: todao

          Clams have juice in them, which you want, and generally a more intense flavor. Mussels are not eaten raw. There are many types of each, and so many ways to use them, it is beyond my energy level to begin. The recipe for steaming mussels above could use a little white wine and garlic.

        2. re: JerryMe

          I go by the "fish don't make good leftovers" for anything that comes out of the water. Make as much as you think you're gonna eat tonight. Don't make extra.

          They don't taste the same. Clams are stronger tasting. And chewier. They're both delicious, but for a SO who doesn't like shellfish, I'd try to warm the SO up to mussels first (just my opinion).

          1. re: Indirect Heat

            IH - Thanks for the leftover ideas - it does make a difference in my house. I'm not able to eat a huge quantity of anything at a time.

            SO won't try any shell fish (he grew up on the ocean and won't eat anything that he hasn't caught himself from a river, lake, stream or ocean) but he'll eat the sides . . Fer sure!

      2. I grew up eating neither. When starting out, I found clams to be more accessible. Your mileage may vary.

        For a recipe, it's hard to do better than linguine con vongole:

        1. Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Dump in the pasta.

        2. While the pasta cooks, melt a tablespoon or two of butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add a few cloves of garlic, minced or sliced, and cook until it softens.

        3. Pour in a few ounces of white wine and bring to a full rolling boil.

        4. Dump in the clams, cover the pot, and steam until they open.

        5. Remove the clams with a slotted spoon and keep warm.

        6. When the pasta is done, drain it, turn it into the saucepan, and stir to coat with the sauce.

        7. Turn the pasta out onto a plate, sprinkle liberally with chopped parsley, and arrange the clams on top.

        8. Eat.

        1 Reply
        1. re: alanbarnes

          Wow! Does that sound tasty! Thank you Alan! I'm game on that! Oh yum!

        2. They're both great on the grill, cook til they open and enjoy with your sauce of choice on the side for dipping.

          1 Reply
          1. re: coll

            Clams are stronger flavored, take a longer time to cook, and keep better out of the water. Mussels are blander (actually, this applies to the farmed Prince Edward Island mussels universally available now. So bland that they really need a sauce. Wild mussels, when fresh, have a very assertive flavor and are fantastic steamed by themselves.) and cook up very quickly. Very important with mussels- they don't close tightly, so even if they are alive they have been basted with the juices of their possibly dying brethren, as well as their wastes. They must be impeccably fresh. Do not EVER buy mussels without sniffing them first. There should be a very pleasant, faint ocean smell. If there is any other odor, do not buy them! All you need is one bad mussel to ruin the flavor of all the other mussels...and totally ruin the flavor of any dish you put them into.

          2. We don't get see clams here too often but mussels are readily available.

            My fave. way is a simple "mariniere" - a little onion or shallot, white wine, parsley. Once you've debearded and other prep, it's literally a 2 minute cooking job. I like them they way they serve them in Flemish restaurants in Belgium - just the musssels, chip (fries) - with mayo for dipping. But crusty bread works as a carb.

            However careful you are, you run the risk of eating a bad one. It's just one of those risks in life. But, I tell you, the effects of a bad one are awful.

            1. Does anyone let them "sit" in a pot of luke-warm salted water with bread crumbs on top to let them "spit out" the sand? I've done that in the past and wasn't sure if it was even necessary....

              9 Replies
              1. re: jenscats5

                That's a new one on me. It might work better if you skip the bread crumbs and toss in a little chewin' tobacco...:)
                Back on topic, there has not yet been a mention of those delicious New Zealand green lip mussels, nor any distinction between clam varieties, whether cherrystone, littleneck, geoduck, quahog, Ipswich, etc., all of which have different typical preparations.

                1. re: Veggo

                  Grit and sand are only a problem with wild mussels. The farmed mussels are raised on ropes suspended above the bottom, so sand never gets into them. I have not had luck with New Zealand mussels. They usually taste pretty foul....they are never very fresh. In fact, I rarely see them fresh anymore...usually just frozen. They are OK, but a bit tough and strong tasting. As for clams, for steaming the best are littlenecks (small quahogs) and soft shell ("steamers", "Ipswich"). Manilla and mahogany clams are boring, but are OK in preparations like black bean sauce. For raw, little necks and cherrystones (I prefer cherrystones), both of which are quahogs..littlenecks are small, cherrystones are larger. Of course geoduck is fantastic raw. For chowders and pasta sauce, I prefer the "chowder" sized quahogs....the very largest size. Surf clams are OK for fried clam strips, or sauteed in olive oil and garlic after being cut in strips, but the best part is the "scallop", (the adductor muscle, one on each end of the clam) either raw or cooked.

                  1. re: EricMM

                    I've had pretty good luck with the green-lip New Zealand ones, but we once found a baby shrimp *inside* the mussel shell. That was pretty wild. They're a bit bigger, so a bit more of a mouthful. My wife thinks they're too big, I think they're awesome.

                  2. re: Veggo

                    I think I remember reading that in an old issue of Gourmet, thus took it as law. LOL Never had a problem doing it, just wondered if it was even needed...

                    Skoal ok? :)

                    1. re: jenscats5

                      Usually cornmeal is used in my experience. But as noted above, not usually necessary anymore because most mussels are farm raised. I used to put the bowl in the refrigerator so don't know about the warm water part.

                  3. re: jenscats5

                    I've not found mussels, especially farmed, to be gritty, as clams can be, for the simple reason that mussels don't bury themselves in sand, they attach themselves to rocky seaside areas, docks and old pilings. They are filter feeders and wild mussels can pick up grit but farmed mussels live in deeper, cleaner waters. Farmed mussels attach themselves to long ropes suspended from rafts or poles planted in the ocean bottom. Not much grit in that enviornment.

                    So cleaning mussels as you would clams, by soaking in salt water with a handful of cornmeal, is not necessary; only maybe if you've collected some wild mussels from the rocky shoreline.

                    1. re: bushwickgirl

                      I had told a fisherman that I cleaned wild clams with cornmeal and he was shocked. He said I was purging all the clam juice. Told me I should just cook them and leave the bottom of the pan alone with the sand in it, if any. So I've been following his advice, since he hasn't steered me wrong yet. Wild mussels, my biggest problem is getting the seaweed out of their clutches.

                      1. re: coll

                        I don't bother with purging clams either, a little sand = "fiber." The few times I've experienced crunch hasn't mattered too much. I don't think you're purging the clam juices necessarily but the cleaning process doesn't seem to be needed.

                    2. re: jenscats5

                      I don't think it's necessary to feed farmed mussels these days - I think they purge themselves in during the filtration process. Mine usually come from about 80 miles away and there's rarely a grit problem.