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Cooking with Clams

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This is probably a dumb question, but when you're cooking with clams, do they always have to be live? Assuming I don't get them out of a can, anyway? I'm very squeamish about the idea of boiling them -- is there any other way to kill them before tossing them into the bubbling water?

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  1. Is this a joke question? In case it isn't, I cut and pasted the following from a science question site. I don't think bivalves suffer pain, in the way mammals do. I try to be scrupulous even if I choose to kill a bug so it doesn't gratuitously suffer, but cooking clams seems to dispatch them mighty quickly.

    Mollusks (including clams) have a central nervous system, even a primitive brain: "In the nervous system typical of mollusks, a pair of cerebral ganglia (masses of nerve cell bodies) innervate the head, mouth, and associated sense organs. From the dorsal cerebral ganglia, two pairs of longitudinal nerve cords arise..." http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-...

    After all, it has complex behaviors (feeding, mating, defense, etc) that need to be coordinated. All animals have behaviors in response to external stimuli signaled by sense organs.

    But "feelings" is a different story. Complex feelings that are obviously human in nature (embarrassment, jealousy, guilt, etc) are mediated by our cerebral cortex -- the "thinking" part of our brain that is highly developed in humans alone.

    Pain is a particularly interesting "feeling." All animals have avoidance behaviors for potentially harmful stimuli, but the unpleasant emotional component that goes along with people's perception of pain is modulated by our cerebral cortex and limbic system (among many pathways), none of which can be found in a mollusk, arthropod, or other invertebrate "lower animal." There is no evidence that when you step on an ant, the ant "hurts" before it dies.

    In fact there is much debate about whether a fish, a vertebrate like us with a similar nervous system, has a big enough brain to experience pain from a fishhook stuck in its mouth. All mammals, by contrast, clearly react to painful stimuli in ways more closely resembling humans. Mammals appear to "suffer" pain. The other vertebrates (amphibians, reptiles, and birds) are probably somewhere in between.

    If your moral/ethical values regarding the treatment of animals is based on the humanistic concept of suffering, then be kind to all mammals, think twice before hooking a fish, but don't worry about clams.

    1. Sorry to be the person to tell you... but... you don't kill the clams before they are cooked. Like steaming or boiling lobsters clams go into the pot live. And, steaming is one of the best methods of cooking clams, not boiling.

      You discard any clams that don't close when you tap them and discard those that stay open after you tap them.

      There are many recipes for steamed, stuffed, grilled, fried, or roasted clams plus chowders on the internet...Here's just one:
      http://savorysweetlife.com/2010/04/st...

      1 Reply
      1. re: Gio

        Botanica, the others are right -
        - With clams, as with other certain seafoods like mussels and lobster, you really WANT them to be alive just before you cook them, or else they will start to spoil in their shells -
        - You don't want to eat spoiled food, do you? That's REALLY dangerous and asking for trouble!
        If all this really disturbs you, then please just cook something else.
        P.S. It's really not bad to cook clams - you basically just throw them in a pot and put a lid on -
        Don't have to see them cooking.

      2. Some Asian Markets like Ranch 99 have frozen clams

        1. There are alternatives to steaming/boiling- roasting, broiling, and of course, shucking- opening the shell and cutting the muscles, and dumping it out of the shell still alive. Face it- its got to be alive when you prepare it. Someone posted about the frozen clams in Asian markets. I have tried them, and they are awful.

          2 Replies
          1. re: EricMM

            they are a bit chewy but cook from frozen and make the right sauce, they can be quite good, much better than from a can, obviously not as good as alive ones. But hey, I was just responding to the OP

            1. re: ROCKLES

              Maybe it was just the brand I tried....I do like the frozen arctic surf clams, but they're already pre-cooked. But I wouldn't even think of canned clams in the same breath....they have their place, but not in any dish that would actually be done with real clams.

          2. Botanica, have you found a way to get around your aversion to cooking clams?
            Just curious -

            1. Mollusks do infact feel pain. They have opioid receptors and will tolerate painful stimuli while under morphine. They also gain tolerance to morphine and will lose out on the benefit of the pain-relieving effects after a short period of continuous dosing. Biologists are proving that with every animal tested thus far, pain is a normal biological response that doesn't even allude the "strangest" of animals- only distantly related to us, but close enough in likeness that the see, feel, eat, and sense pain. Pain is a fundamental mechanism of survival.
              The best way to kill an invertebrate that you do not wish pain upon for mere decadence is by asphyxiation or by the instantaneous destruction of its central nervous system. The latter requires a pretty good understanding of said-creature's anatomy, but asphyxiation unfortunately, in the case of certain mollusks, can take along time as they have evolved to survive "catastrophes," such as seaweed blooms which deprive the water of dissolved oxygen, thus allowing them to survive without oxygen for long periods of time.
              I personally tried to asphyxiate a snail doomed to become escargot because I could not bring myself to drop it into boiling water. It didn't work, but it could with other invertebrates meant for the plate. (Think: breathe out into a bag, breath in again, breathe out, breathe in once more- now you have a bag of CO2 and devoid of oxygen, and now you can asphyxiate your not-so-fuzzy-lil-creature intended for your dinner plate- maybe.)
              Being thrown into boiling water has to be incredibly painful; and I do not have the time to deduce how long it would take for one to die given a particular surface mass, total mass, volume, chemical composition etc- that's alot of calculus, physics, and chemistry- so I'd rather play it safe, and play kind, and just not eat anything that can't be treated well and killed instantly when I have the option to eat mindfully and exercise compassion for animals that seem so foreign.
              I understand the argument that because most invertebrates are incapable of complex thoughts and may or may not be self-aware that they do not feel pain the same way as more intelligent species. I get why that is argued, but then one can argue that if you could isolate the feeling of pain from all other feeling, thoughts, emotions, sensory inputs, etc, then you have pain- something measurable, and something incredibly unpleasant. These arguments are mostly philosophical and have not yet been fully greeted with any science based approaches. Because pain is so subjective, science, at the moment, lacks the tools to quantify it properly. Again I say, better play safe and kind too.
              Back to your question: if you look at some charts you may be able to get your clam's anatomy and maybe you can stab it right in it's neurons, i don't know how you would not hurt it by prying it open first though.