Manila clams are tasty, oval-shaped bivalves known for their meaty, firm texture and a sweeter taste than other clams. Classically prepared in pasta and soups, Manila clams can be baked, poached, sautéed, and steamed, making them versatile in a variety of preparations and a great addition to your seafood menu when in season.
What Are Manila Clams?
Easily spotted by their attractive and hard shells, Manila clams are small, sweet clams, with deep, wide bars of color over a finely ridged shell. While Manila clams can live for seven to 10 years and grow to eight inches across, most are sold at 3 to 4 years old when they are typically less than three inches across.
While it was accidentally introduced from Japan to Washington state in the 1920s in shipments of oyster seed, Manila clams can be found from British Columbia in Canada to Northern California, thanks to sustainable farming practices in the Pacific Northwest that are not environmentally threatening. These are one of the most cultivated clams in the world.
How to Cook Manila Clams
Most Manila clam recipes use steam as the method of preparation, but they can also be baked, poached, or sautéed. Even though prepping them for raw consumption will also yield a magnificent dish, few people chose to do so. Steam them with aromatic herbs, bake them in the half shell, remove the meat and use in pasta dishes, stir-fries, stews, soups, or dips, or use the cooked meat in salads and cold dishes.
What Do Manila Clams Taste Like?
Manila clams taste every bit as sweet as the Eastern quahogs that are commonly eaten on the half shell, but Manila clams are less salty, juicier, and their meat very plump, with a delicious briny aftertaste. Because of their mild and sweet taste, Manilas are a favorite of many professional chefs.
Manila Clams vs. Pacific Littleneck Clams
In the wild, Manila clams live alongside Pacific Littleneck clams (not to be confused with the Eastern Littleneck clam), and although similar in aspect because they belong to the same family, the Manila are milder in flavor with recognizable umami qualities. Be mindful of not mixing these two types of clams in the same dish unless you cook them separately. Manila clams need only about three to five minutes to steam open, while Pacific Littlenecks require 10 to 12 minutes.
Manila Clam Recipes
Before cooking, rinse the Manila clams well and scrub the shells if needed, but there is no need to purge them in water. Toss any clams that don't open after steaming because they likely died before you purchased them, and there's a risk of food poisoning.
Pair Manila with fat, using cured meats like bacon, pancetta, chorizo, or something else that's cured and salty. Sauce them with buttery preparations, wine, or aromatic broths, adding pungent garlic or scallions. Mix them with crabs, Pacific ocean perch, or flounder, as all three consume Manila clams in the wild, and they share a connection on the plate because of this.
Where to Buy Manila Clams
Many online distributors will ship live Manila clams to some areas of the U.S and Canada, but if you have a local fishmonger or live near the coast, chances are you can score fresh Manila clams at great prices either in specialized stores or at your local supermarket. Typically sold by the pound, there can be between 15 to 20 clams per pound, and a dozen is usually a healthy main course portion for one person. Because of their size, some people might eat more than a dozen, so if you're serving a large group, consider purchasing a dozen clams per person, plus an extra dozen for good measure.
Do not buy the clams by the bushel because there is no standard definition of a bushel, and its size varies among different suppliers.
Storing Manila Clams
After you purchase the clams, place the bag of clams in the refrigerator. Ideally, they will be sold in a netted bag. Do not soak, submerge, or place clams in a closed container. If you're keeping the clams in the shell, use within three to four days after purchase. If you're removing the meat from the shell, use it within three days for the best results and flavor.