Hard Shell Atlantic Clams

Mercenaria mercenaria

Market Name(s): Pasta Neck,Little Neck,Middle Neck,Top Neck,Cherrystone,Chowders

Primary Source(s): Hard-shell Clams can be found from the Canadian Maritimes to the Gulf of Mexico but are less common further south. Most of the U.S. harvest comes from Massachusetts to Florida. Hard-shell Clams dig into mud and sandy bottoms of bays, coves and estuaries and live buried into the ground.

Size Range:  Hard-shell clams can grow as large as 5 inches and are sold under names based on size. Due to management restrictions, those from northern waters tend to be harvested at a larger size than those from southern waters.

North Atlantic Harshell Clams are native to the easterns shores of North America, found in coves, bays and estuaries along the Atlantic Coast from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Hard-shell Clams are generally known by names based on their size: Littlenecks, Cherrystones, Topnecks and Chowders. Littlenecks are the smallest followed by Cherrystones. These are the most popular and are often served raw. Chowders are the largest and generally used for chowders, soups, stuffed clams and other similar dishes. Depending on the market, Topnecks are sized between Littlenecks and Cherrystones or between Cherrystones and Chowders.

Substitutions: Surf Clams and Soft-shell Clams can be substituted for Hard-shell Clams.

Hard-shell Clams are wild-captured by scissor-like tongs, hand rakes and dredges. They are also farm-raised along the East Coast.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood WATCH® ranks farm raised Clams from around the world as “Best Choice” because “Clams are farmed in an environmentally responsible way.” The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood WATCH® ranks Hard-shell Clams from the U.S. Atlantic (North Carolina, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Rhode Island) and the Canadian Atlantic wild caught by rakes and shovels as a “Best Choice” because they “low vulnerability to fishing pressure due to their fast maturity and short lifespan.”

Smaller Hard-shell Clams can be served raw, on the half-shell. Hard-shell Clams can be fried, steamed, baked, poached, sautéed, steamed or broiled. Larger Hard-shell Clams can be used in soups or chowders, stuffed, and in fritters. Clams cook quickly so be careful not to overcook.

Do not use Hard-shell Clams that remain closed after cooking. These are dead and should be discarded.