During the dog days of summer, nothing quite hits the spot like a glistening platter of clams on the half shell. And unlike oysters, the prima donnas of the mollusk kingdom, hard-shelled clams are available year-round (none of this “oysters R in season” nonsense for them).
All hard-shelled clams found on the East Coast are the same species, Mercenaria mercenaria, and their common names connote their sizes. The quahog (pronounced CO-hog) or chowder clam, is the largest, followed, in descending order, by the cherrystone, topneck, middleneck and littleneck.
Clams on the half shell are widely available on Long Island and are generally of very high quality. Clams are alive until shucked and will do fine in a cool dark place for days. If a restaurant has someone on hand who can shuck clams, odds are that the clams are going to be fresh. (Since the Department of Environmental Conservation closed Oyster Bay and Cold Spring harbors to shellfishing, clams from those waters have not been on the market.)
Soft-shell clams — the ones with thin shells and the “necks” that hang out — are a different species, Mya arenaria, and are variously called long-neck clams, steamers, belly clams, pissers and Ipswich clams, named for the town in Massachusetts where, it is said, someone first got the idea to deep fry them.
Steamed soft-shell clams (i.e. “steamers”) are almost as easy to find on Long Island as hard shells on the half shell. Fried soft-shells (Ipswich clams) are another matter. Here are some places where they're almost always on the menu:
Artie’s South Shore Fish Market and Restaurant, 4257 Austin Blvd., Island Park, 516-889-0692