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Fishmonger insists open clams are still alive...?!

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Hey all, longtime lurker finally coming out of the shadows to ask this question. Last week I was in search of some nice clams to make linguine vongole at home. The neighborhood market - which has always had extremely fresh fare - had some that looked fine on first blush, but on closer inspection many of them were slightly open. So the guy behind the counter tells me something I haven't heard before: that the clams are still alive, if I just "refresh" them in some ice water they'll snap right shut again. I didn't want to risk it so I declined, but I wanted to see if this is crazy talk or what. Any experience with this? Maybe the temperature in the refrigerator case was a bit too high? I want to trust them since all their other stuff is great quality, but I know better than to be cavalier with my mollusks.

I think if this happens again I'll simply ask to see one of the open ones and investigate it, by smell and by seeing if it reacts in any way to a tap on the shell.

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  1. No; I would not buy them; he's attempting to sell you dead shellfish and it has bacteria.

    1. Live clams can be slightly open, but in order to check that they are still alive, you need to tap them lightly- a live one will close right up. If it stays ajar, it's dead.

      The clam uses muscles to open/close its shell, and when those muscles are relaxed it can cause the clam to open *very slightly*. Of course, a gaping wide open clam is a dead clam!

      2 Replies
      1. re: pickledtink

        I just saw a rerun of an alton brown episode and there is a certain type of larger clam (can't remember the name!) that is slightly open- however, as he mentioned those are also very sandy, so regardless i would not want those.

        1. re: Ttrockwood

          You may be thinking of geoduck (say "gooey duck") clams, whose siphons are so large that the shells cannot physically close completely. In Japanese, they have a slightly vulgar nickname.

      2. I've posted this before, but it's worth repeating. Uncooked clams that are open should close with some gentle handling - knocking a couple against each other is enough. Those that do not close are dead and should be discarded. They may still be safe to eat if they've been dead only a short while, there's no way to tell how long they've been dead, so discretion is the better part of valor. Cooked clams that do not open in the cooking process were dead before they were cooked, and should likewise be discarded.

        1. Open clams are just smiling til you knock them on the head, then they close because you're a bully.

          But if they don't close then they're just dead.

          I cooked live mussels for the first time a few weeks ago. I sorted through 2 kilos around 3 times. I was so paranoid. It took me 3 hours. This is how I know I'll never forage my own mushrooms.

          1. True, clams may open while in the bag but, should close when they're tapped on the shell. If they don't close, toss them. have your monger test them for you.

            1. If you can , tap them at the fishmonger